Brockport memories fresh for Lycoming

Mike Clark didn’t even try to find an excuse. There was no reason to.

New quarterback who wasn’t expected to be the starter? Doesn’t matter. Loss of the school’s first-ever MAC Defensive Player of the Year? Irrelevant.

Bringing up any excuse as to why Lycoming didn’t win its season opener last year against Brockport would sound like nothing more than sour grapes. The Warriors were manhandled in their season opener a year ago, something Clark didn’t try to hide when discussing today’s rematch with the Golden Eagles.

“Last year, they were the better football team,” Clark said. “There’s nothing anybody could say that will change that.”

The reason the Warriors were manhandled in that game last year still has Clark and his players shaking their heads. It’s not as though they were surprised by the size of the offensive and defensive lines of Brockport. They had rosters, they had the film to see it.

What was surprising was just how athletic the Golden Eagles were. The two usually aren’t combined on the Division III level. The challenge isn’t much different today. Brockport averages 6-2 , 294 pounds. Consider the Golden Eagles’ smallest offensive lineman is 281 yards, and Lycoming’s biggest offensive lineman is 290 pounds.

“Big is one thing. Athletic is one thing. When they’re big and they can block you, that’s hard,” Clark said.

Brockport’s offense made a Lycoming defense which finished fourth in the country in points allowed and 25th in the country in total defense look like a scout team defense at times. The Warriors never got the penetration which made them such a tough run defense a year ago. The Brockport offensive line created a comfort zone for quarterback Joe Scibilia to pick apart the secondary.

It was an overwhelming performance from Brockport who had one of the most potent offenses in the NJAC last year. So what has changed in a year? What’s different about today’s game than last year’s?

“We’ll find out about a lot of people,” Clark said. “The good news is we still have (defensive tackle Dwight Hentz) and that’s a great place to start. We’re still searching. We don’t have Nate Oropollo. We don’t have Roger Jayne. So can Jimmy Nottingham take the next step? Can Braden Zeiner take the next step? That’s a critical matchup for us. If we don’t do a better job of creating more problems for them, that’s not good.”

Maybe the biggest step the Warriors can take in trying to control the Brockport offense is to have its own offense put up a better performance. In his first start at quarterback, Tyler Jenny was asked to throw the ball more than 40 times against the Golden Eagles last year.

It wasn’t an ideal plan for the Warriors’ offense. A pro-style offense which is based around getting the running game rolling accumulated just 31 yards rushing on 18 carries. It was the only time all season the Warriors failed to rush for 100 yards in a game, and one of only two times they failed to rush for 150 yards.

But Jenny isn’t the same quarterback he was a year ago. He turned into an All-MAC caliber signal-caller who nearly guided the Warriors to the MAC championship. He’s not the same quarterback who failed to lead the offense to points in a 24-2 loss last year.

“We feel pretty good about ourselves offensively,” Clark said. “We need to be able to score some points. If we put up a zero again, I know who’s going to win and it’s not going to be us.”

Brockport has gone through a stable of change since the last time it played Lycoming. Gone is head coach Rocco Salomone, the school’s all-time leader in wins after 19 years. Jason Mangone, the architect of Brockport’s offense, has taken over the head coaching job.

The Golden Eagles threw a school-record 419 passes last year under Mangone, then as the offensive coordinator. But even with their wide-open passing assault, Brockport still makes its money on the ground. Tyrone Nichols, a 221-pound tailback is coming off a 1,000-yard season, and behind a mammoth offensive line, controlling the Golden Eagles’ running game is paramount.

“We’ve gotta control the line of scrimmage,” Lycoming defensive tackle Zack McMenamin said. “If we can make him go outside and wrap him up, we’ll be OK. We can’t let him get the extra yards.”

Lycoming could be without two starting linebackers today as both reigning MAC Defensive Player of the Year Kabongo Bukasa and second-year starter Tyler Denike battle injuries. Clark said if they needed the two to play this weekend they likely could, but it wasn’t a situation he wanted to exasperate in a non-conference game in Week 1.

“I hope we find out what we have and where we are and find a way to win the game,” Clark said. “The goal will always be to win a (MAC) championship. But you don’t want to sacrifice any one particular game either.”