Lycoming head coach Mike Clark joked with team doctor Patrick Carey earlier this week about the potential of Carey purchasing a new scoreboard for the football team. For as much business as Clark is sending Dr. Carey's way, he may have some extra money.
The Warriors will play without four starters Saturday in the regular-season finale against Misericordia, a bad time for the injury bug to be biting a team which still has NCAA playoff hopes. Starting right guard Mike Chaput was not listed on the weekly depth chart after aggravating a knee injury against Stevenson last week. All-conference middle linebacker Kabongo Bukasa will miss the game after sustaining a groin injury in a goal-line tackle last week. Cornerback Kody Flail and safety Ryan Fenningham will miss their third consecutive games after suffering knee injuries against Widener.
It'll be the seventh complete missed game for Fenningham this year after initially injuring his knee against Delaware Valley and then injuring it again on an interception against Widener.
"We were looking over a two or three-week stretch and we counted 30-some injuries," Lycoming defensive coordinator Steve Wiser said. "It's easier to count the guys who haven't had injuries."
The concern about the injury bug doesn't come so much for this week's game. The Warriors are playing a Misericordia team which is in its first year of existence and is being outscored, 53.1-6.0 this season. It's a Misericordia team that has yet to win a game and has given up fewer than 40 points just once, and scored double figures in points just three times.
The concern from the injuries comes should the Warriors have to play next week in the NCAA playoffs. There is still a chance for Lycoming to win the Middle Atlantic Conference championship and gain the league's automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. If the Warriors win and Delaware Valley beats Widener by 15 points or fewer, Lycoming would gain the automatic playoff berth.
And because there's a potential Week 11 to be played, Clark is holding out both Chaput and Bukasa this week.
"I think this week if you have to keep a couple guys out then you keep a couple guys out for their long-term health and potentially their ability to return is much more significant," Clark said. "Most of those guys we're just not going to give them the option in hopes that they could play another game."
The injury concerns extend far beyond just the four starters who won't play this week. This has been an issue for the Warriors for much of the season. But both Clark and Wiser said the team's ability to utilize so many players throughout the season has given backups the chance to get valuable time.
On top of that, blowout wins against King's, FDU-Florham, Wilkes and Stevenson have given significant late-game minutes to the same backup players. Brian Fousty stepped in for Chaput after re-injuring his knee on the Warriors' first possession last week and was very solid for a rushing attack which put up nearly 200 yards. Receivers John Sibel and Ryan Umpleby stepped in this year with big catches as Matt Atkinson battled a hamstring issue and Sibel had his best game as a Warrior against Wilkes.
Jamie Reitzi stepped in for Bukasa last week and recorded four tackles as a middle linebacker. Reitzi was Lycoming's starting middle linebacker two years ago but was beat out for the position the past two season by Bukasa who was moved from safety.
"I'm truly a believer anymore that it comes down to the expectation isn't for the player, it's for the position," running back Parker Showers said. "So if someone goes down, the expectation of what the person in that position entails, doesn't change."
"It's a challenge, but it ties into what our philosophy is anyway," Clark said. "Caleb Shertzer had to jump in from early on and play for Ryan Fenningham and Cody Butler. So OK, if Mike Chaput doesn't play this weekend, then Brian Fousty will. If Kabongo doesn't play this weekend, then Jamie Reitzi will play and Kyle Sullivan will play. And if those guys can't, then somebody else will. We'll have 11 guys out there. It's not Hoosiers and my team's on the floor. We'll play 11. We will not intentionally play 10. We might end up with 10 guys on the field at some point, but not intentionally."
Injuries have given the coaching staff an opportunity to see just what they had in players like Tanner Troutman and Caleb Shertzer. Troutman has turned in an all-MAC caliber season with five interceptions and six pass break-ups. The Warriors are 7-0 when Shertzer starts at safety for Fenningham and he's also fifth on the team with 37 tackles.
It's been a stellar season for the senior Shertzer who has played a number of positions since coming to Lycoming, including cornerback, linebacker and running back. His emergence, along with that of Troutman, has allowed Wiser to utilize Hughesville graduate Cody Butler in a number of roles since coming back 100 percent healthy against Widener.
Butler basically played as a match-up corner on dangerous Widener receiver Anthony Davis and shut him down for much of that game. Butler has also seen time at his safety spot and at linebacker. The Warriors have built a level of depth in which they're not afraid to use 20 or so players in a game. The benefit of that has shown as Flail and Fenningham and Bukasa were all lost for significant time.
"The job is still there and you have to perform like everyone else does," linebacker Tyler Denike said. "Everybody has been doing that really well. We try to fluctuate who gets in so if (someone does get hurt) they've been in there and been a part of our defense and they know what's going on."