Not one, but two QBs have red-hot Lehigh dominating the air
(STATS) - For one of the top passing offenses in the FCS to have two of the nation's leading receivers isn't a major surprise.
Having two quarterbacks capable of running that attack certainly is.
That's just the case at Lehigh with Nick Shafnisky and Brad Mayes, playing the role of mentor and mentee while becoming close friends despite competing with one another. It's not even clear which one - or maybe both - will play this weekend with the Mountain Hawks looking to extend one of the FCS' longest winning streaks and inch closer to a national ranking.
Shafnisky is a senior captain who is No. 1 on the depth chart, but he's had a nagging ankle problem that forced him out of last week's 35-3 whipping of Georgetown and caused him to sit out at Yale earlier this month. All Mayes did that day was set a school record with 524 passing yards and match another with six TD passes in a 63-35 victory, earning Patriot League offensive player of the week - an honor Shafnisky won the previous two weeks.
Mayes came off the bench for an ailing Shafnisky last Saturday and was impressive again, completing 19 of 26 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns in less than three quarters.
Coach Andy Coen, whose team ranks fourth in the FCS with 350.3 passing yards per game, may need to start the sophomore again because he's not sure if Shafnisky will play this week against Holy Cross.
"We're blessed to have these two guys that are actually tremendous players," Coen said. "And Nick's been a tremendous leader and I think that leadership is really starting to rub off on Brad, which is great."
Mayes backs up his coach's belief, soaking up every last bit of guidance the unselfish Shafnisky offers.
"My biggest mentor so far would be (Shafnisky)," Mayes said. "I don't think I've had anyone really in my life so far who's been able to teach me things on and off the field."
Even realizing Mayes is his heir apparent, Shafnisky has embraced the relationship. If anything, maybe the competition has fueled him to be better because Shafnisky is the ninth-rated passer in the FCS.
Having Troy Pelletier and Gatlin Casey as options down the field has made both Shafnisky and Mayes look good. The junior wideouts are 1-2 in the FCS in receiving yards.
"What's been really good about our passing attack, it hasn't been these long, long throws," Coen said. "It's been these shorter throws when guys are running in stride and then you just can't catch 'em."
While Pelletier leads the way with 838 yards and also ranks atop the FCS with 60 receptions, no pass-catcher in the nation has been hotter than Casey. His 677 receiving yards over the past four weeks are the most of anyone in the FCS or FBS, and his nine TD receptions in that span are tied for the most.
"He's doing a great job for us," Coen said. "He has tremendous speed. Once he puts his foot in the ground, he can really take off."
So has his team.
Lehigh (5-2, 2-0) has won five in a row, and the only FCS teams with longer winning streaks are Sam Houston State and The Citadel. Those powers are both 6-0 and rank No. 1 and 5, respectively, in the STATS FCS Top 25.
The Mountain Hawks have an outside chance to join them in the poll next week. They received the fifth-most votes of any team not to make the latest Top 25 and are facing a Crusaders squad which just handed previously ranked Harvard its first loss.
"If you watch the game tape, it wasn't a fluke," Coen said of Holy Cross (3-4, 1-1), which had six sacks against the Crimson and leads the Patriot League with 20.
The fleet-footed Shafnisky is more capable of escaping the pressure. He's rushed for 177 yards and five touchdowns.
Mayes isn't known for his scrambling ability, but if given the chance Saturday, he's now better equipped to run from trouble than he was a couple of years ago - thanks greatly to Shafnisky.
"He teaches me leadership skills off the field which I've really excelled in, and just on the field being able to look at things like reading a defense, or going through your reads and being able to escape the pocket and make a play, which he's really good at," Mayes said. "Other than that, he's just one of my best friends."