The surprise was evident on Mike Clark's face as he was told of King's beating Delaware Valley last weekend. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who wasn't surprised.
It was the win, though, which was sorely lacking for a King's team which is much improved this year and has won four games in a row coming into Saturday's game against Lycoming. Clark stood just off of David Person Field quickly doing the math in his head of what the Monarchs' upset victory meant for Lycoming and the Middle Atlantic Conference title race.
Then he drew upon a conversation he had before the season started with some coaches who had told him King's was improved over its recent seasons which had seen the Monarchs win no more than three games since 2008. And it all started to make sense.
A team which had been beaten up by the MAC in recent years as it played younger and younger lineups, was finally getting some experienced play from upper classmen. And King's has turned it into a reason for hope and excitement. And capping off that mid-season run was last week's 21-14 overtime win over Delaware Valley in Doylestown.
"I knew King's was a good team, but for them to knock off a first-place team is huge for them," Lycoming center Casey Strus said. "They're more mature and they're older than they were in recent years."
King's, in recent years has struggled to get out of the basement of the MAC, often winning games against other also-rans of the conference such as FDU-Florham, or Stevenson and Misericordia in more recent years. But it was wins against Misericordia and FDU - teams with a combined 1-13 record - after an 0-3 start which got the Monarchs on the path its on now.
But King's followed those wins with an upset of Stevenson, a third-year program which made noise starting the 3-0, and Delaware Valley, a team it hadn't beaten in 10 years. The Misericordia win was a thrilling double overtime affair in which the Monarchs stopped a Cougars two-point conversion attempt in the second overtime to hold on for a 41-40 win.
"There's an incredibly fine line between what gets a team to finally go in the right direction and what doesn't," said Clark, who is in his sixth year as Lycoming's head coach. "They could have been Misericordia's first-ever win, at which point they might not have had three additional wins if they lost that. Instead, they beat Misericordia, some other teams that have struggled, and they go to Delaware Valley and win and that's a great win."
National attention has been thrust upon the Monarchs in the past couple weeks as both CBS Sports Network and ESPN's College Gameday have discussed defensive end Ron Garrett's streak of scoring a defensive touchdown in five consecutive games. He even appeared in Sports Illustrated's Faces in the Crowd after the streak reached four weeks. The streak, which ended in last week's win over Delaware Valley, is believed to be a record across all levels of college football. While the fifth-year senior didn't score a touchdown in last week's game, he did record 12 tackles and was a focal point for Clark as he discussed this much-improved King's football team.
But as nice as the attention was for an individual effort, it was last week's win which seemed to pique the interest of on-lookers from the outside. No longer was this just a team beating up on struggling programs of the MAC, this was a Monarchs team which beat one of the four teams tied atop the MAC for first place.
In fact, should King's beat Lycoming, Albright beat Widener, and Delaware Valley beat Lebanon Valley on Saturday, it would create a five-way tie for first-place in the MAC. A tie which King's would be a part of.
"We see signs every day that we're improving, but people ultimately judge you on wins and losses," King's head coach Jeff Knarr said on a weekly interview on King's Web site. "We need to continue to get those moving forward. We had a chance to play a meaningful football game last Saturday and get a win. That boosts our confidence and moves us up the ladder even quicker. The kids know now they can compete with the best in the MAC."
"There were a ton of mistakes by Del Val in that game, but (King's) was able to capitalize and go down there and win," Clark said. "They're good. Very, very solid. Garrett is really good. He's really active. For not having great size, they're really active defensively and they make it hard on you."