The Lehigh Mountain Hawks took the Patriot League by storm last season.
The team averaged 41.5 points per game in conference play and posted an undefeated record against league foes. The Mountain Hawks were only tested by Bucknell in Patriot League play, as the Bison managed to stay within a touchdown.
What’s in store for the Mountain Hawks in 2017?
2016 Lehigh Football Season In Review
Lehigh had an extremely balanced offense last season, rushing and passing with effectiveness.
Quarterbacks Nick Shafinsky and Brad Mayes combined to lead the best passing attack in the conference and one of the best in the nation. The Mountain Hawks were sixth in the country in passing yards, averaging 324.9 yards per game through the air.
Shafinsky was the starter and saw the majority of action on his way to winning the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year award. However, Mayes was no ordinary backup, throwing 154 passes over seven games. His peripherals were almost as good as those of Shafinsky, too.
Running back Dominick Bragalone looked very strong as the season wore on. Over his last five games, he averaged 7.8 yards per carry and found the end zone seven times. He ended up averaging 5.7 yards per run for the season, but he wasn’t utilized as a receiving threat out of the backfield.
Receivers Troy Pelletier and Gatlin Casey had standout seasons in this offense as well. Pelletier was the more frequent target, catching 96 passes for 1,278 yards and 12 touchdowns to lead the Patriot League, while Casey was the big-play threat. He averaged 18.3 yards per reception on his way to a 1,000-yard season as well.
For as good as the offense was, defensive improvements played a large part in this team going undefeated in conference play. Lehigh allowed over 35 points per game in 2015, but it gave up just 26.9 per contest last season.
As exciting as the year was for the Mountain Hawks, it ended with a thud. Lehigh made its first playoff appearance since 2011, but it was hammered by New Hampshire once it arrived. The defense completely collapsed, allowing 639 total yards of offense on the day. The only reason the 64-21 drubbing wasn’t worse was because New Hampshire’s backup quarterback threw three interceptions.
2017 Lehigh Football Season Preview
It’s rare to see a team return as much skill position talent as Lehigh does. Mayes showed he has what it takes to lead the offense last year and it’s his time now. He doesn’t make mistakes with the football and should thrive under new offensive coordinator Scott Brisson.
The offensive line has been hamstrung in recent seasons, but this could be the best unit Lehigh has had in some time. There is a lot of experience up front and some young players that can step in and make an instant impact. Brandon Short and Zach Duffy are the leaders as fifth-year seniors, and Alex Motley might be primed for a huge leap forward in his second season.
Wide receiver will be another position of strength. Pelletier and Casey are both back and could see even bigger numbers in 2017. Brisson is Lehigh’s former wide receivers coach and may want to get his guys even more involved in the offense.
Defensively, the bend-but-don’t-break philosophy will be tested once again. All three of Lehigh’s starting linebackers from last season have graduated and the players behind them don’t have much experience. The good news is that the defensive line is in quite the opposite shape, as everyone returns from last season.
2017 Lehigh Football Schedule
September 2: Lehigh vs. Villanova
September 9: Lehigh at Monmouth
September 16: Lehigh vs. Yale
September 23: Lehigh vs. Penn
September 30: Lehigh at Wagner
October 7: Lehigh at Colgate
October 14: Lehigh vs. Georgetown
October 28: Lehigh at Fordham
November 4: Lehigh at Bucknell
November 11: Lehigh vs. Holy Cross
November 18: Lehigh vs. Lafayette
FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch
Lehigh will be tested right out of the gate in 2017 with arguably its toughest game of the season. Villanova is traditionally one of the powerhouses at the FCS level and handed Lehigh a loss when these teams met last year. The Mountain Hawks will host the game this year and can turn a lot of heads with a win.
The Patriot League isn’t one of the strongest conferences, but don’t be surprised to see the Mountain Hawks drop a road game in league play. Lehigh must face Colgate, Fordham and Bucknell on the road this season and it seems unlikely that it will get a sweep. Keep this in mind for your FCS Pick ‘Em Contests.