Mike Clark very rarely steps foot inside a defensive huddle. Even as Lycoming's head football coach, he defers to longtime defensive coordinator Steve Wiser when instruction needs to be given during a timeout.
Thursday was different though. Near the end of the Warriors' scrimmage with Franklin & Marshall, the Diplomats had just hit a big pass play down the left seam to set them up inside the 15-year line with their lone scoring opportunity of the scrimmage.
With Lycoming's second-team defense on the field and a shutout on the line in a scrimmage that went a full 60 minutes, along with some situational play, Clark stepped into that defensive huddle to deliver a succinct message.
"I told them, you have a chance to keep this (shutout)," Clark said. "You have a chance to keep them out."
The defense responded with great coverage from the secondary on a fourth-down play from the 2-yard line, and great pressure from the defensive line. Franklin & Marshall never scored.
Just over a week away from its season opener, Lycoming beat the Diplomats yesterday, 19-0, on the newly renovated turf at David Person Field.
It was a sloppy 19-0 win that featured just five points from the first teamers - a 25-yard field goal from Zack Czap and a sack for a safety from Robbie Brodish. But for Clark, it was a win nonetheless.
"All in all, we won," he said. "It wasn't pretty, but we won. If this was a real game, we would have won."
When Clark stepped into that defensive huddle with the reserves with under 30 seconds to go in the game, he reminded them that in a game as close as yesterday's was during the regular season, they likely wouldn't be in the game. So the four-down sequence was their opportunity to keep up with the pace the first-team defense had set.
And it was a pace that Usain Bolt would have trouble coming up with. Coming off a season in which the defense was ranked third in the country in Division 3, the Warriors didn't seem to have lost a step.
Franklin & Marshall's first-team offense ran 24 plays against the Warriors' first-team defense and gained just 20 yards. The Diplomats had 15 running plays that totaled minus-18 rushing yards. The final five plays run by the Franklin & Marshall offense all went for negative yards, and 11 of the 24 plays went for either no gain or negative yardage.
On its first possession, the Diplomats had plays of 27, 11 and 8 yards. It didn't have a play of more than 3 yards following that series.
The defense even played without starters Dwight Hentz and Dillin Rudloff. Clark said Hentz would have played had it been a regular-season game, and Rudloff is coming off of back surgery that forced him to miss all of last season.
"I thought defensively we were very good, which we kind of felt we should be coming in anyway," Clark said. "I was really pleased with our effort defensively. We got the safety and that's pretty good."
The first-team offense and defense played just the first half for both teams. In that 30 minutes, defensive end Nate Oropollo recorded a pass break-up when he batted down a screen at the line of scrimmage, a sack, and a solo tackle.
Hughesville graduate Cody Butler, in his first season with Lycoming after transferring from Holy Cross, recorded five tackles and was very good in run support. Zach McMenamin had a pair of tackles, including a sack for the Warriors.
"Anytime you can shut someone out, regardless of whether it's a half or a game, that's pretty good," Clark said. "They hit that big play early, but other than that, there wasn't a whole lot going on."
The offense suffered a similar fate for Lycoming as it struggled to find solid footing early, but eventually began to move the ball consistently. After going three-and-out on its first series, starting quarterback Zach Klinger ran off a string of four completions in six attempts for 60 yards.
An offensive line that is trying to replace three starters and is without starting center Casey Strus because of an elbow injury, struggled to protect Klinger early and struggled to open up holes for running backs Parker Showers and Craig Needhammer. But the group eventually began to open creases for both backs who combined for 66 yards on 15 carries (4.4 yards per carry).
Needhammer ripped off a 15-yard run on his final carry of the scrimmage, and was a half-step from breaking a tackle a ripping off another big run on the carry before that.
But the offense struggled to finish drives. First it was a retaliation personal foul penalty that kept the Warriors from getting inside the 20-yard line of the Diplomats. Then it was a false start penalty on the 3-yard line that gave Lycoming a third-and-goal from the 8 instead of the 3. Then it was a pair of sacks of Klinger on a series that had the Warriors facing second-and-6 from the 13-yard line which took them out of field goal range.
"I thought we were OK at moving the ball, but then we would make mistakes," Clark said. "Those things hurt and I want to see them on film. I think there's some things we can control that if we eliminate, we have a chance to be all right offensively."
The Warriors are battling a number of injuries, Clark said, including ones that kept Hentz, Strus, Rudloff, do-it-all offensive player Matt Atkinson and fullback Nick Mongiello out of the game. Receiver Jarrin Campman was also pulled from the scrimmage after making a 37-yard reception because of a tender hamstring.
"We're reasonably healthy," Clark said. "But we'd like to be more healthy."