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Lehigh At Yale Narrative Street: The (In)Famous 2014 Game At Yale

Maybe it was the choice of senior OL Brandon Short as one of the student-athletes interviewed this Wednesday, or maybe it was the mention from junior DE Harrison Johnson that this game could be your last.

This Lehigh football team clearly remembers September 21st, 2014, the last time the Mountain Hawks went to the Yale Bowl.

It is true that it wasn't the last time the Mountain Hawks played Yale.  There's last year, too, that 27-12 dud that Lehigh put up against the Bulldogs, too.

But the loss last year to Yale at Murray Goodman isn't the reason why senior QB Nick Shafnisky is calling this another "motivational game".  It's more about the 2014 game, and the lost season for Brandon Short.


"From the second play from scrimmage," I wrote two years ago, "RB Brandon Yosha burst through the line for a 60 yard touchdown, thanks to the blocking up front by OL Shane Rugg, C Brandon Short, and OL Wenner Nunes.  But none of these players would be on the field on Lehigh's final drive, all four felled by leg injuries."

In what can only be described as a disastrous 54-42 loss up at the Yale Bowl in 2014, Lehigh came back to Bethlehem with a Brandon Yosha that would never be the same runner again, and a banged-up offensive line, to put it mildly.

Yosha would ultimately retire from playing college football, at least in part to the injury he suffered at Yale, and transfer.  But "this game is a little more personal for Short," Greg Joyce of Lehigh Valley Live wrote this week, "who tore his ACL on a cut block gone wrong in the team's visit to the Yale Bowl two years ago."

Though it may as well be ancient history, it's a fair question to wonder whether Lehigh would have done better than a 3-8 record in 2014 with a fully healthy Brandon Short all season and a full-speed Brandon Yosha, and the subtweet in this entire situation is that the Lehigh football team hasn't forgotten what happened the last time they went to the Yale Bowl.

As game narratives go, this one is by far the biggest.

The best part of the story is that Short has fully recovered from that torn ACL and is having fun so far this season, especially in the last two contests.

"We're having a blast," Short said. "Offensive linemen don't get the stats and all, but we really take pride in what everybody else does. Sophomore RB Dom Bragalone last year had 1,000 yards and that was like Christmas for us.  He ran like 44 yards for the touchdown (to make 1,000 yards) — that was the fastest 44 yards I've ever ran,. I was sprinting to the end zone to be right there with him. It was an awesome feeling."

"There's no love lost between us and the Bulldogs," head coach Andy Coen said near the end of the Lehigh Football Report this week.  "Hopefully the Mountain Hawks will be able to show their talents pretty strong here."

Lehigh DE Harrison Johnson
"Don't expect Lehigh to let up at Yale," Keith Groller of The Morning Call added, "since the Mountain Hawks still have bad memories of their last visit in 2014. Lehigh led 21-0 and 28-7, but lost 54-43 and also lost several linemen due to injuries as well. How the injuries happened made Coen as angry as he's been in his 11 years as coach."

When asked about the lessons of the games versus Yale, junior DE Harrison Johnson responded with the line, "Take nothing for granted.  We can't give up anything, Each game could be out last game, so we need ot give it everything we've got."

*****

A lesser-covered narrative angle of this game is Lehigh's overall historic problems at the Yale Bowl.  Lehigh has only won twice at the Yale Bowl in their long history, and both wins were by the skins of their teeth.

The first was in 1994, when the Associated Press led with the lede "Lehigh Quarterback Lights Up Yale Bowl" as QB Bob Aylsworth threw for 455 yards in a 36-32 win.  WR Jason Streeter hauled in a 17 yard touchdown pass with 9:44 left in the game, and the Lehigh defense held on 4th and 2 in the shadow of their own end zone to hold on for the win.

The other was in 2004, which, like the 1994 win was of the come-from-behind variety, rallying from a 21-7 deficit and recovering from Yale "dominating the line of scrimmage," an uncharacteristic Brown and White article revealed.  "QB Mark Borda had several key scrambles, including the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.  His ability to avoid sacks and create plays with his feet was the difference."

The two games at the Yale Bowl demonstrate that nothing has ever come easy for Lehigh at the Yale Bowl - even in wins.

*****

Overall it's been a very busy week for the Mountain Hawks in the media department, first with Nick Shafnisky's conference honors and national STATS Offensive Player of the Week honors as well.

"The offensive scheme we came in here with our coaches was incredible," Shafnisky said in the post-game press conference this weekend. "The past two weeks, the plays that they're calling, I don't even have to think about them … they just know what to call. On first down, they know how to get positive yards and keep the ball moving and move the sticks. And it's huge to get yards on first down. I think last week we had something like 300 yards on first down. We're just staying on track whether it's running or passing."

There was also a great article from HERO Sports about both Shafnisky and junior WR Troy Pelletier, describing how they've become such a potent go-to combination.
A couple years ago, Shafnisky invited Pelletier to tag along on his family vacation to the Dominican Republic. And wouldn’t you know it, the QB packed a football.
“We had our fun, but we made sure we got our work in,” recalls the 6-foot-3, 209-pound Pelletier. “We would go to the only field in the area and throw the rock around and work on our route tree.”
More than the back-shoulder spirals and wheel routes he threw under the Caribbean sun, Shafnisky remembers the locals looking at him and his teammate like they were Martians. After all, the DR is arguably the baseball capital of the world.
“It was kind of funny,” says Shafnisky, 21, a 6-foot-2, 219-pounder. “No one knew what a football was. We were teaching kids how to hold it. Introducing them to the sport. It kind of felt like an opportunity.”
This week, too, Lehigh football was a part of Lehigh Athletics' giving back, as they and other Lehigh athletics teams attended the Reading Rocks kickoff this week at local Donegan Elementary School.  It's been a great program that has been going on for many years now, and both the athletes and the kids seem to really enjoy it.

Finally, it wasn't just the offense getting the love this week, it was also the defense, specifically the linebackers in this Brown and White article.

 “There are no plays off for us,” senior LB Pierce Ripanti said. “It is our job to anchor down the middle of the defense, and it is essential that we read and react with 100 percent efficiency and effort on every play.”
Unlike other defensive positions, linebackers must provide coverage based on reaction time, not by covering a specific player. 
“We are major factors in both the run and the pass,” sophomore LB Jake Buskirk said.

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