Lycoming's season changed on one play. It was a 10-yard run as non-descript a play as the hundreds of others this season.
With the confidence of a young offensive line shaken, Parker Showers' 10-yard run on the Warriors' first play from scrimmage against Delaware Valley settled the minds of the three sophomores starting for the first time on Lycoming's line. The line struggled to get anything going for the offense in a season-opening loss to Brockport and sophomore right tackle Garrett Hartman said the group doubted their capabilities.
But that 10-yard run set the tone. In a must-win game in the second game of the season, Hartman, Mike Chaput, Casey Strus, Cody Moyer and Andrew Wagner asserted their will. It was the launching point for a Lycoming running game that has been the backbone of the Warriors offense as they've won three consecutive games to open the Middle Atlantic Conference portion of their schedule.
Today, Lycoming hosts King's. Kickoff is at 1:30.
"The speed of everything, I don't think we were prepare for everything in the first game," Hartman said. "The first game under our belt was what the sophomores needed, myself included, to get going in future games."
This wasn't supposed to be the season that sophomores Strus, Hartman and Chaput stepped into starting roles. Lycoming head coach Mike Clark had two freshmen come into the program two years ago who had shown the ability to eventually step into starting roles. And with this having been their junior years, it would have been the opportunity for Brandon Scott and John Rizzo to become starters.
Rizzo, though, after a strong freshman season suffered a back injury which required surgery. The Neshaminy product hasn't played since, but is still part of the program. Scott, who saw significant time in the Warriors' short-yardage packages a year ago, is no longer in school, but Clark said there's a chance they may get him back in the future.
So the Warriors are without a junior offensive lineman on the roster. Thus, the team was in a situation where Strus, Hartman and Chaput joined senior veteran starters Moyer and Wagner on the offensive line.
Strus saw time in a reserve role a year ago and overcame a preseason elbow injury to play at a high level. But Chaput was a defensive lineman a year ago that recorded five tackles. Hartman had a knee injury a year ago that prevented him from being a factor.
But together, those three, along with Moyer and Wagner, as well as freshman Matt Patterson, comprise a unit that has built a running game Clark likes to have in his play-calling arsenal.
"I'm not shocked to see their progress because they're tough and they're athletic and they're lean guys who move around. It takes time to come together," Clark said. "We were able to run the ball on Delaware Valley. We were able to run the ball on Lebanon Valley, and we were able to run the ball on Albright. What that does is we're pounding on the defense. When we go out and run the ball, it's kind of demoralizing. It puts the burden on the defense a little bit."
The numbers wouldn't make you believe this is a run game capable of impacting a football game. The 145 rushing yards per game puts them seventh-best in the MAC. The 3.6 yards per carry is just short of that magic 4-yards-per-carry mark that coaches strive for.
But the results can't be argued with. The Warriors ran better than effectively in the first half against Delaware Valley to build a 17-7 halftime lead in their first win over the Aggies since 2008. Craig Needhammer went over 100 yards against Lebanon Valley, including a back-breaking 61-yard touchdown run. And last week at Albright, the Warriors got back on track with a 14-play touchdown drive in the second quarter in which all 14 plays were running plays.
"They're bonding together (on the offensive line)," Lycoming fullback Nick Mongiello said. "The three guys on the right side are all sophomores and they're really learning from the guys on the left. We're definitely happy with how we're doing. We're winning games and that's all that matters."
"I love to run the ball. I'm pretty sure the coaches love to run the ball. And I know the running backs love to run the ball," Hartman said. "I'm sure the entire offensive line is happy with the way we can run the ball for 5 or 6 yards at a time."
The numbers are skewed a little bit by the Warriors' short-yardage run game. Clark made a point that a 2-yard run on third-and-1 is just as good as a 7-yard run on first down.
Sixteen times in the last three games the Warriors have either converted on a third-and-1 or third-and-2 situation, or cut their distance in half on goal-to-go situations. Those 16 plays have netted just 32 total rushing yards, but they're vital nonetheless.
Needhammer and Parker Showers punched in touchdowns from the 2 and 1-yard lines in last week's win against Albright. Tyler Jenny picked up a 1-yard touchdown run on a quarterback sneak on fourth down against Delaware Valley. All were important runs even if not flashy on a stat sheet.
The Warriors have also had the toughest schedule in the MAC to start the season. They knocked off undefeated teams in each of the last two weeks of the season. Delaware Valley started the season ranked ninth in the country, and Brockport was ranked in the top 20 after starting the season 3-0.
"I think you'll see those numbers will change a little bit," Clark said. "
"I feel like we're doing what we need to do in every situation," Hartman said. "If we need 2 or 3 yards to get a first down, we're getting 2 or 3 yards and getting a first down. If we need a big play, we can get big plays. Everything has been falling into place."
And it's falling into place for the foreseeable future. Strus, Hartman, Chaput and backup Charles Simpson are sophomores and Patterson, a Danville graduate, is just a freshman. There's going to be a base of strong players for Clark to rely on for the next couple years.
"I'm not complaining," Clark said with a smile. "If you can continue to build and find big guys, that's the key. You're never going to have a dozen O-linemen you feel good about. But if you have seven or eight, you're real good. For us to be able to say we can put seven or eight guys in the game is a blessing because a lot of teams can't."