Tyler Jenny had just been sacked twice in three plays. Lycoming's starting right guard was out of the game with a knee injury. And Stevenson, which had lost three games by three points or less this year, had the momentum.
So it wasn't that Warriors head coach Mike Clark diverted from the gameplan, he just put more emphasis on the running game. And it was a move which paid off.
Lycoming starting running backs Parker Showers and Craig Needhammer combined for 205 rushing yards on 37 carries as the Warriors put together a dominant 32-7 win over Stevenson on Saturday at David Person Field.
On a day where the wind played havoc with both teams' passing games - the two teams combined for just a 47 percent completion percentage - the running games became so important. And while Lycoming found success running any way they chose, Mustangs tailback K.K. Smith, who leads the MAC in rushing and is 12th nationally, was held to just 66 yards on 24 carries, his worst rushing performance of the season.
"We love to be able to block for the running backs," Lycoming senior left guard Cody Moyer said. "You're not going to find a better duo than Parker and Needhammer."
After dropping back six times in its first two possessions, Lycoming threw just 15 times the rest of the game, one of which was a 25-yard touchdown pass to fullback Nick Mongiello. The Warriors were content to lean on the Mustangs' defensive front for the better part of the final 50 minutes.
Right guard Mike Chaput left the game following the first series after tweaking an already injured knee. He was in street clothes and on crutches at the end of the game. Senior Bryan Fousty stepped in for Chaput, and following the Warriors' second possession which produced the only two sacks of the day for Stevenson's defense, the offensive line began asserting its will on the Mustangs.
The Warriors' third possession - and second with their revamped offensive line - was a seven-play drive which featured six running plays covering 31 yards. The drive finished with the scoring strike from quarterback Tyler Jenny to Mongiello.
"Bryan came in and did an outstanding job for us when Mike when down," said Needhammer, who finished with a career-high 127 rushing yards. "The line was doing a great job and calling out everything up front and really making Parker's and my job real easy."
Coming just a week after Jenny threw for a career-high 239 yards in a win over Wilkes, Saturday's switch in gameplan had as much to do with the conditions as it did with the strengths and weaknesses of Stevenson's defense. A gusting wind made the ball sail in one direction and die coming the other way.
"We thought we could get them in some places and we did," Clark said. "We averaged 4.3 yards per carry, but if you look at (Showers and Needhammer), 205 yards on 37 carries? That's a pretty good day."
Needhammer scored on a 22-yard run in the second quarter thanks to a great block by receiver Jarrin Campman to spring the sophomore to the pylon. Showers, playing what may be his final home game, ran for 78 yards, including touchdown runs of 4 and 5 yards.
The Lycoming offensive line - which also included Andrew Wagner, Casey Strus and Garrett Hartman - routinely sprang Needhammer and Showers to the second level before they were even touched by Stevenson's defense.
"Coach Clark always says get the first level first and take care of the defensive linemen and everything else will take care of itself," Moyer said. ""We were taking a toll on them being able to run the football like that."
"We always say to get the first level first, but they were getting to the 'backers, too," Needhammer said. "That made our jobs that much easier. The line did a great job."
It was the perfect complement to a defense faced with its second consecutive test of a strong running game, a test which it passed with flying colors. Smith's 66 rushing yards represents his worst performance since he rushed for just 3 yards on four carries in the 2011 season opener against Shenandoah.
His previous low this season was 90 yards last week against King's. It was just the second time this year Smith had at least 20 carries and didn't rush for 100 yards.
"It starts with the D-line and getting them in the right position and they're limiting what he can do up the middle, and then we stretch him out and our safeties are coming own and the linebackers are playing together like a unit," Lycoming linebacker Jamie Reitzi said. "Week in and week out it doesn't matter who we're playing against running back wise, we always want to stop the run first and then get them one-dimensional and then work on defending the pass."
The win keeps Lycoming's MAC title hopes alive along with their hopes at the league's automatic qualifying spot for the NCAA tournament. With Delaware Valley's win over Wilkes yesterday and Widener's game at FDU-Florham getting canceled, the Warriors would need Delaware Valley to beat Widener next week by no more than 14 points to gain the league's automatic qualifying spot for the NCAA tournament.
Should Widener beat Delaware Valley, it would receiver the league's automatic berth.
"It's been a long season. We've had some injuries all along the way and we're still right where we need to be," Warriors linebacker Kyle Sullivan said. "Next week we just have to take care of Misericordia and whatever happens, happens."
Stevenson 0 7 0 0- 7
Lycoming 13 10 9 0-32
LYCO-Parker Showers 5 run (Zack Czap kick failed), 10:29
LYCO-Nick Mongiello 25 pass from Tyler Jenny (Zack Czap kick), 01:37
STE-Jarrett Bragg 3 pass from Anthony Reid (Charlie Cornell kick), 14:35
LYCO-Zack Czap 32 field goal, 10:30
LYCO-Craig Needhammer 22 run (Zack Czap kick), 03:53
LYCO-Zack Czap 37 field goal, 08:56
LYCO-Parker Showers 4 run (Zack Czap kick failed), 03:43
First downs 13 15
Rushes-yds 32-85 46-198
Passing yards 136 104
Att-Comp-Int 32-15-1 19-9-0
Punts-avg) 7-27.9 6-32.2
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 9-76 9-97
Possession Time 26:43 33:17
RUSHING: Stevenson-K.K. Smith 24-66; Anthony Reid 7-19; Ricky Congo 1-0. Lycoming-Craig Needhammer 19-127; Parker Showers 18-78; Chris Nemits 4-5; Zach Klinger 1-2; Matt Atkinson 1-1; TEAM 1-minus 2; Tyler Jenny 2-minus 13.
PASSING: Stevenson-John Gasparovic 9-22-1-84; Anthony Reid 6-10-0-52. Lycoming-Tyler Jenny 9-19-0-104.
RECEIVING: Stevenson-Anthony Smith 7-79; K.K. Smith 4-23; Neil Harps 2-19; Jarrett Bragg 2-15. Lycoming-Matt Atkinson 2-14; Craig Needhammer 2-14; Jarrin Campman 2-12; Nick Mongiello 1-25; Greg Kovacs 1-22; Ryan Umpleby 1-17.
Records:?Stevenson 1-8, 1-7. Lycomong 7-2, 7-1