READING - Lycoming defensive coordinator Steve Wiser huddled with the Warriors defense on the sideline late in the first quarter Saturday and knew he needed to devise a new plan of attack to contain Albright's Scott Pillar.
The receiver who plagued Wilkes a week ago to the tune of 14 catches and more than 150 yards was well on his way to doing the same thing Saturday. It took him just 11 minutes to record five catches, 67 yards and a touchdown at Gene Shirk Stadium in a key MAC game as the Warriors tried to match up with him man-to-man wherever he went.
So after the 6-foot-2 Pillar made a brilliant catch on a fade pass for a touchdown with 4 minutes to go in the first quarter, Wiser had that meeting with his defense.
Pillar never caught another pass. And from that point on, the Warriors' defense flourished in a 29-14 win over Albright that left Lycoming as one of just two teams still unbeaten in MAC play.
"Coach Wiser said we need to do something about him because he was really hurting us in the first quarter," sophomore safety Tanner Troutman said. "So we double covered him, giving him extra attention. So I was playing robber on the inside part of the field and whoever is covering him has the outside. So we put him in a position where he can't make a catch on us."
To the point of Pillar's touchdown catch, Albright quarterback T.J. Luddy was 6 of 8 for 102 yards and a touchdown. Following that Pillar touchdown, Luddy and backup quarterback Adam Galczynski combined to go just 11 of 21 with a touchdown pass and three interceptions.
It was a defensive performance worthy of the precedent the Warriors had set over the previous two seasons. Because with Pillar not able to find open room, Albright struggled to find other receivers. Tight end Eric Wade caught a 5-yard touchdown pass and another big catch on third down.
But after taking a 14-0 lead, Luddy completed just two more passes to his own team while throwing three to the Lycoming secondary. Troutman and Matt Talerico each had an interception that was returned inside the Lions' 2-yard line and led directly to a score, and linebacker Kyle Sullivan picked off his first pass to stop a third-quarter drive.
"We just threw bad balls. We had receivers open and threw behind them," Albright head coach John Marzka said. "The first pick we threw behind an open receiver right to the defender. The second one all we needed to do was put some air under the ball, and (Luddy) didn't throw it with authority. We had an open receiver and we throw it to the only guy (Sullivan) that's in the area. You can't turn the ball over four times against anybody and expect to win let alone against a team like that."
It was merely a continuation of the success Lycoming's defense has had against Luddy and Galczynski the past two seasons. Coming into Saturday's game the two had combined to complete just 22 of 65 passes for 176 yards and five interceptions against the Warriors in the last two years. Although the yardage surrendered in Saturday's game was more than the Warriors allowed in the previous two years combined (207), the three interceptions were the killer.
The two touchdowns from Troutman's and Talerico's interceptions gave Lycoming its winning scores.
"I don't ever tell Steve what to do. The guy is awesome," Lycoming head coach Mike Clark said. "He's going to see it and he's going to figure it out and he did."
The turnaround started with the pressure the Warriors put on Luddy with its front four. It was the same pressure they had gotten on him in the first quarter, but they began to start finishing the play, getting sacks. C.J. Arhontakis and Dwight Hentz each recorded a sack, and Kyle Sullivan and Braden Zeiner each recorded a half-sack.
The Warriors were already dominating the Lions' run game and allowed just 40 yards total on 23 carries for the game. The added pass-rush pressure left Luddy and Galczynski unable to set their feet and make strong throws.
"They do a great job. They're a great defense and Steve Wiser does a great job," Marzka said. "But we didn't play the way we were capable of, and that's what's disappointing."
"It starts up front. Everyone stresses it to their team," Troutman said. "If you get the pressure, it makes my job boring in the secondary. They stepped up and flushed the quarterback out of the pocket and I was able to jump one and the offense put it in the end zone. That's how it's supposed to work."