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Lehigh Changes Helmets and Changes Trajectory, Defeats Bucknell 21-10

The first surprise was Lehigh's uniforms.

Heading out of the locker room, the Mountain Hawks did not come out in their usual gold helmets, whie jerseys and brown pants.

Instead they came out with the white helmets unveiled in the Bronx - white helmets with "Lehigh" in brown on the sides.  They matched the rest of the uniform extremely well - not the pinstripes that were worn in Yankee stadium, but all-white jerseys and all-white pants with brown numerals.  White socks and white shoes completed it.

It seemed to have been unveiled today by coach Andy Coen to usher in a new team, and  a new, fresh start.

But the best part of the afternoon was that, whatever the reason, the new uniforms worked.

After an early touchdown, the Lehigh defense would only allow a field goal the rest of the way to the Bucknell offense - without two of its top playmakers.  When preserving a two-score lead, the Lehigh offense grinded the Bison defense into so much burger meat with a 17 play, 54 yard drive that caused Bucknell head coach Joe Susan to need to burn all three of his timeouts just to get the ball back.

It was enough to come out of Lewisburg with an enormous Patriot League win going into the Mountain Hawk bye week.



"We put together a really good offensive game plan to run the ball," Coen said. "Defensively, Coach Joe Bottiglieri and his staff did a great job. We put pressure on their quarterback. I can't speak enough about how well those kids developed today. I thought the defensive guys were getting better, even in the midst of the Yale loss. Hopefully these are things we can continue to build on."

With 4:59 left in the first quarter, Bucknell WR Alan Butler would haul in a 44 yard pass from QB R.J. Nitti to give the Bison an early 7-0 lead.

Nitti connected a couple times with Butler on the drive, who was starting in the place of WR Will Carter (who did not play due to "disciplinary reasons").

The scoring strike certainly gave Lehigh fans an uncomfortable feeling of "here we go again", the memory of Carter's record-breaking receiving performances the last two years still fresh in their minds.

Junior QB Nick Shafnisky, though, had other plans.

He'd guide Lehigh on a 8 play, 73 yard scoring drive, hitting junior WR Jarrod Howard and sophomore WR Troy Pelletier on several big 3rd down conversions, before fooling the Bucknell defense on a read-and-run and converting a 40 yard touchdown run.

From there, the Lehigh defense went to work.

After a big sack by senior LB Noah Robb stopped one Bucknell drive, Shafnisky would kick-start another score with a big 37 yard completion to senior WR Derek Knott, ending the 77 yard drive by changing the play calling his own number again, a 3 yard touchdown run on a left draw.

"The defensive guys stepped up tremendously," Coen said. "I was really proud of the guys — really proud. There weren’t many guys in our corner."

The defense had an excellent afternoon, limiting the Bison to 233 yards of total offense and limiting Bucknell to 5-of-14 on 3rd down conversions.  Junior DE T.J. Stubbs putsloads of pressure on Nitti all afternoon,  notching 1 1/2 sacks, and junior LB Pierce Ripanti led the team with eight tackles and generally made Nitti's life miserable.

But two of the Bucknell stops in the red zone really stood out.

After a heady interception by Bucknell CB Colin Jonov, the Bison drove into the Lehigh red zone with a great opportunity to tie the game near the end of the first half.  Once there, though, a furious pass rush from the Lehigh front six hurried Nitti into two incompletions, setting up a FG try that was missed.

Early in the 3rd quarter, too, Bucknell had a 1st and goal with a golden chance to tie the game.

On that play Bucknell RB Matt Del Mauro forged ahead 3 yards and seemed to have momentum to get into the end zone, but freshman DB Sam McCloskey put himself right in his way and stopped him short of the 2 yard line, giving enough time for he and sophomore DE Harrison Johnson to bring him down.

Lehigh would get lucky on a dropped pass, and then on 3rd and goal freshman LB Jake Buskirk, playing the entire game for the injured senior LB Colton Caslow, would stop del Mauro for a two yard loss.

Though Bucknell would end up with a field goal, it felt like a huge victory, especially after Shafnisky would find sophomore TE Drew Paulsen later for a huge 16 yard touchdown.

"At media day last summer, I said of all the games this season I wanted this one more than any one," Shaf said after the game.  Lafayette's our Rival, but they really put it to us their last two.  To come out and beat them on their home turf, that's great.  That's a great feeling."

In Bucknell's last two games, they came from behind to beat both Cornell and VMI in dramatic fashion.  So when Lehigh had the ball with 12:20 to play in the game, the offense knew what they had to do: grind the ball out and use up as much time as possible.

The offense ground it out to perfection, using a steady diet of runs from freshman RB Dom Bragalone and sophomore RB Nana Amankwah-Ayeh, grinding out first downs and keeping the clock moving.

Amankwah-Ayeh, in extensive action today, routinely was powering over Bucknell highly-touted defensive line, sometimes carrying defenders as he was getting first downs, while Bragalone, who would end with his second straight 100 yard game, was a constant thorn in Bucknell's side all afternoon.  In all 29 of their rushes on the afternoon, they weren't tackled for loss even once.

"I had most of my high school football team here and so many of my friends," Bragalone said. "It was a great feeling. We knew we were going against a great defense today, one of the best in the nation. We just worked hard. Everybody did their job, we executed and came away with a great win."

After the tough game versus Yale last week, it wasn't only the fact that they beat Bucknell, but how they did it is what seemed to make coach Coen so satisfied in the end.

"We had a real good game plan on both sides of the ball," Coen said. "It felt like we dominated both lines of scrimmage.  We hung in there. It wasn't always pretty, but after the last couple of weeks any win is pretty."

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