For the first time this season, Lycoming didn't have to battle back from a deficit. It was a nice change of pace for a team which has won all four of its games this year in comeback fashion.
So nice, in fact, the Warriors seemed to relax. And all of a sudden, in the middle of the third quarter, they were in a dogfight, searching for answers on how to right a ship that had veered way off course.
Enter a defense that has been the backbone of Lycoming's football team for a year and a half. Twice in a 1-minute span they helped give the Warriors' offense less than 20 yards to travel for a touchdown, and the offense did just that both times to re-ignite the fire of the Warriors and lead them to their 33-10 win over King's College at David Person Field.
Lycoming remained one of just two unbeaten teams in MAC play as Widener beat Lebanon Valley, 40-37, in overtime yesterday after scoring 16 points in the final 3 minutes to tie the game.
Lycoming got just the tough test it was expecting from an improving King's program, but the 20 points the Warriors scored in the first 17 minutes of the game may have lulled the Warriors into a false sense of security, thinking the game was going to be a walk-over.
"It's tough to get psyched up every week, especially after we finished playing the gauntlet of the MAC," Lycoming quarterback Tyler Jenny said. "We have to learn not to (relax) and be mature. We have to get better at not relaxing if we get a lead like that."
Lycoming went from outgaining the Monarchs 191-25 in the first quarter to being outgained 180-20 in the second quarter. King's found success underneath, dragging running backs across the middle of the field, or sneaking them out of the backfield into the flat.
King's already knew by that point its running game was going to be a fruitless effort against a Lycoming defense which allowed just 40 yards a week ago to Albright. Even with the MAC's second-leading rusher, Kyle McGrath, the Monarchs averaged just 1.2 yards per carry Saturday afternoon.
So in the second quarter, they exposed a Lycoming man-to-man defense by running pick routes that opened up running space just over the line of scrimmage. Quickly King's began to move the ball. First it was a 54-yard drive which got as deep as the Lycoming 26 before a turnover on downs. Then it was a 10-play, 79-yard drive capped with a 7-yard touchdown run by McGrath, before a 42-yard drive following an interception ended with a field goal to cut Lycoming's lead to 20-10.
It was a precision attack, dinking and dunking passes short allowing the Monarchs' playmakers to run after the catch. A team averaging just 133 passing yards a game, had 175 alone in the second quarter.
"We started to play. We didn't take that punch in the gut (in the first quarter) too well and we stumbled a bit," King's head coach Jeff Knarr said. "But they woke up. The second quarter we started to make those plays and make something happen."
"We knew we came out flat," Lycoming middle linebacker Kabongo Bukasa said. "We were up 20-0 and we weren't playing our game in the second quarter. We weren't doing our assignments and we weren't doing our job. We just had to calm down and play our game."
Lycoming started the turnaround on the Monarchs' second scoring drive of the quarter after Billy Beinke made a great play to intercept a screen pass at midfield. King's opened the drive with a 40-yard pass from Tyler Hartranft to Kudlacik setting up the Monarchs with first-and-goal at the Lycoming 4-yard line.
But the Warriors settled in, holding a pair of rushing plays to just 1 yard apiece and eventually forcing Kevin Mulvihill to kick a 20-yard field goal, cutting the Warriors lead to 20-10. The field goal seemed deflating though, as Lycoming still held a two-score lead.
"We knew that was gut-check time," Lycoming defensive tackle Dwight Hentz said. "They tried to slam the ball right up the middle and we played it well. The D-line held up, the linebackers filled the holes and the secondary kept with their coverage. That was a real big victory for the defense, especially going into halftime."
"The three helped with the momentum and we kept our momentum, but yeah, they don't feel as panicked," Knarr said of the field goal. "As a young team we've had problems finishing drives and we need to correct that."
The Warriors picked up a pair of momentum-changing stops in the third quarter when it found some answers for those underneath routes. When a 41-yard Zack Czap punt pinned King's at the 4 midway through the third quarter, the Lycoming defense dug in and drove the Monarchs back to the 1.
Mulvilhill punted just 26 yards from the back of the end zone and Jarrin Campman returned the punt to the 9. Two plays later, Jenny hit John Sibel with a perfect throw on a wheel route for a 9-yard touchdown catch.
Bukasa then intercepted Hartranft on the Monarchs' ensuing possession, returning the interception to the 1. A personal foul penalty on the Lycoming sideline moved the ball back to the 16, but it took the Warriors just three plays to get a Parker Showers 3-yard touchdown run to push the Lycoming lead to 33-10.
"The defense really came out and stepped up on those series," Jenny said. "They gave us a short field and the punt return by Jarrin really set one up. It helped get back the momentum our way."
"When they're deep in their own territory, we're always looking to get a safety, a turnover or even a defensive touchdown," Hentz said. "That's the goal of everyone. Pinning them deep and then shutting them down twice was big for the whole team."
Lycoming got off to its fast start just 17 seconds into the game when Jenny hit Campman on a play-action pass for a 78-yard touchdown. It was the second time this year the two have connected on a big pass play for a touchdown.
And it was just the fast start head coach Mike Clark was looking for earlier in the week.
"There's some things there, that, on film, we thought we could take advantage of, so why wait," Clark said. "We felt we could score and that's a way to set the tone for the game. It set the tone en route to a 20-point lead."