Matt Atkinson stood just outside the Lycoming locker room and quickly scanned the blue blockers. Having yet to change out of his uniform himself, the receiver couldn't help but notice the destitute attitude of his teammates that remained.
It was such a stark contrast from recent weeks, where the Warriors had done everything imaginable to recover from a Week 1 loss to Brockport State and control its own destiny within the Middle Atlantic Conference. A team-wide three cheers celebration was replaced by players quietly putting on shoes and street clothes while burying their eyes into the floor and getting lost in the music streaming through their headphones.
"This locker room is just silent," Atkinson said.
The Warriors lost Saturday afternoon at David Person Field, 28-23, to No. 14 Widener in maybe the most inconceivable of manners. A defense which hadn't given up more than 14 points to a MAC team all season surrendered 14 to the Pride in the final 4:27, including a 34-yard touchdown pass from Chris Haupt to Anthony Davis with just 17 seconds remaining.
The final touchdown pass left a raucous homecoming crowd of more than 4,200 fans dead silent, pondering how Widener could have overcome seven turnovers - including four interceptions thrown by Haupt. How the Pride did it was with an offense that was averaging an NCAA-best 59 points per game going into this key MAC showdown.
And what the win for Widener did was make the Pride the only unbeaten team in MAC play. Widener now controls its own destiny and with wins in the final three weeks of the season will win the MAC title and claim the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. Lycoming has not been eliminated from contention for the MAC title, but can claim at least a share of the title with one Widener loss in the final three weeks of the season.
"It sucks," Atkinson said. "I wish I could tell you more, but I'm just depressed right now."
"There's no way you should force that many turnovers and lose," Lycoming head coach Mike Clark said. "They're good. I knew they were good. They're undefeated for a reason. But we spoiled a great defensive effort."
Clark took the brunt of the blame for one call that could have swayed the outcome late in the fourth quarter. Facing third-and-7 at his own 42-yard line with 1:43 to play, Clark elected to throw for the first down instead of running the ball despite Widener having no timeouts remaining.
Under duress, quarterback Tyler Jenny flicked a pass over the middle to running back Parker Showers, who couldn't handle the low throw and the ball fell incomplete with 1:38 left. After a Zack Czap punt, Widener and Haupt took over at their own 22 with 1:26 on the clock.
Had the Warriors run the ball on third down, they would not have had to punt the ball until there was at least 1 minute left. Instead, the extra time allowed Widener to drive the length of the field and score the game-winning touchdown.
"In the end we made too many mistakes against a good team that allowed them to beat us at the end. And part of that is me throwing the ball on third-and-7 with a minute and whatever to go," Clark said. "But we called the play to win the game. If we convert that, the game is over. It didn't work out, but ultimately it's my decision."
Lycoming's defense had been a royal pain for Widener for the better part of 50 minutes Saturday until the final two drives of the day. First it was a 13-play, 94-yard drive midway through the fourth quarter, ending with a Haupt 6-yard touchdown pass to running back Cuve LaFate, which cut Lycoming's nine-point lead to just two.
Then it was an eight-play, 78-yard drive to all but end the game which helped spoil potentially the best overall defensive effort of the year - considering the strength of the opponent - for the Warriors. Facing third-and-22 from their own 10 following a fumble the Warriors couldn't pounce on, Haupt hit Steve Marrero on a post pattern for a 40-yard gain to midfield.
Haupt then hit Davis, Widener's All-America hopeful receiver, for 16 yards on a brilliant leaping catch. Two plays later Haupt hit David on a 34-yard post pattern, and as Davis caught the ball, safeties Caleb Shertzer and Cody Butler collided allowing Davis to waltz into the end zone with the winning score.
Prior to the final two scoring drives, Haupt was averaging just 5.5 yards per attempt and 8.6 yards per completion. On the final two scoring drives, he averaged 10.5 yard per attempt and 18.9 yards per completion. He was 10 of 18 for 189 yards and two touchdowns on those final two drives.
"For the first three quarters, they stopped us," Haupt said. "They played well and they came up with big plays when they needed to."
"We had a good gameplan and we executed it well in the first half," said Troutman, who had two of the Warriors five interceptions. "But toward that last drive it fell apart on us. They started running some more vertical (routes) on us and we were having a little trouble at safety."
The Warriors forced Haupt to throw into tight windows all day, often bracketing their coverage downfield with tight man-to-man coverage from a cornerback with help over top from a safety if needed. And by doing that the Warriors neutralized one of the most dangerous offenses in the country.
The tight coverage allowed a four-man rush to pressure Haupt into tough throws, which led to the four interceptions. The first of which came when Troutman jumped a drag route underneath and returned it to the Widener 1. Tyler Jenny threw a 1-yard touchdown pass on the next play to tight end Wes Strayer. It was Strayer's first catch of the season and it tied the game at 7-7.
Haupt's very next pass was intercepted by safety Ryan Fenningham, who was brilliant in his return from a knee injury he suffered in Week 2 against Delaware Valley. But Fenningham re-injured his knee on the play and did not return. His interception led to a 13-play, 58-yard drive that was capped with an Atkinson 6-yard touchdown run, giving Lycoming a 14-7 halftime lead.
In fact, all 23 of Lycoming's points came off of Widener turnovers yesterday. Zack Czap converted on a 19-yard field goal following a LaFate fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter. And Showers turned Kabongo Bukasa's second interception of the day into a touchdown with a 1-yard scoring run in the fourth.
But it was the missed chances which loomed larger. Czap had a 20-yard field goal attempt blocked in the second quarter after a drive which started with a fumble recovery. Czap missed wide right from 38 yards in the third quarter, and he also had an extra point blocked. Atkinson also dropped a pass at the 1-yard line just before Czap missed on the 38-yard try.
"We should have had way more points," Atkinson said. "Myself, I dropped a pass that I definitely should have had to put us down to the 1 or 2-yard line. And that eats away at you. Man, it eats away."
"We should have scored 30 points today and we didn't and we lost," Clark said. "Thirty wins today. Twenty-eight doesn't.
"We spoiled an incredible defensive effort."