There was consolation in Lycoming's loss Saturday. At least the way a pack of gum is the second-place prize when the winner gets a new car.
It was consolation nonetheless. Widener gained full control of the race for the MAC championship and automatic berth to the NCAA tournament with its shocking 28-23 win over Lycoming on Saturday. The season, though, isn't over for the Warriors.
That was the straw the Warriors were grasping at Saturday evening as the finality of surrendering a nine-point, fourth-quarter lead against the No. 14 team in the country set it. The three games the Warriors have left to play are not just for show. It's not like a year ago when a loss to Delaware Valley in Week 9 eliminated Lycoming from contention for a MAC title and the Week 10 game against FDU-Florham was merely a formality to close out the season.
There's meaning in this week's game at Wilkes, next week's against Stevenson, and in three weeks at Misericordia. There's meaning because while Lycoming has already played the crux of a MAC schedule against the top four teams in the conference not named Lycoming, Widener still has tough games against both Albright and Delaware Valley yet to play. And one loss in either of their final three games would put Lycoming back in the hunt for at least a share of the schools' 15th MAC championship.
"We're not going to tuck our tails between our legs and give up," Lycoming safety Tanner Troutman said. "We're going to go work hard and take out all of our frustrations on the other teams. We're going to come back from this and hopefully win a MAC championship."
This isn't one of those situations where the hope for Lycoming is only mathematical and not realistic. There is a very realistic opportunity the Warriors could end their season with the conference's one automatic qualifying spot to the NCAA tournament.
The scenarios are like this:
- If Widener wins out, they win the conference title outright and earn the league's automatic berth
- If Widener loses two of its final three games, Lycoming and Delaware Valley would share the MAC title and Lycoming earns the automatic qualifying spot
- If Widener loses to Delaware Valley by between 6 and 14 points, Widener, Del Val and Lycoming would share the MAC title and the Warriors would gain the at-large berth
- If Delaware Valley beats Widener by 16 points or more, all three would share the MAC title and Delaware Valley earns the automatic berth
The scenarios aren't that off-the-wall. But all of the scenarios which automatically put Lycoming into the national playoffs hinge on the Warriors being able to take care of their own business against Wilkes, Stevenson and Misericordia.
After a rather melancholy Sunday where the players and coaches were still playing the coulda, shoulda, woulda game as they looked back on the loss from Saturday, Clark and quarterback Tyler Jenny both said it's been easy to refocus this week on the Colonels. First, the Warriors haven't won at Wilkes since 2003. Second, Wilkes is 3-1 since suffering a 90-0 loss to Widener a month ago.
"If we mope then we'll lose to Wilkes," Clark said following the loss to Widener. I don't know the outcome of next week's game, but we're not going to mope and we're not going to sulk around. We would not have won the MAC championship (Saturday), and while we put ourselves in a much more difficult spot, we did not lose it. We made it a heck of a lot harder."
"We have probably the greatest group of guys we've had, and that's how we got to the point where we were before the game," Lycoming receiver Matt Atkinson said. "We're going to bounce back and be fine."
Yes, it's cliche to say there's still a lot of season left to play. But there has to be focus for Lycoming. The Warriors no longer control their own destiny, but they have a hand in it.
And at this points, isn't even that consolation better than having nothing to play for at all?
Mitch Rupert covers Lycoming College football for the Sun-Gazette. He can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Mitch_Rupert.