Lycoming runs over Misericordia

It was no different than any other stretch play Lycoming will run a couple dozen times throughout the course of a football game. It’s a base part of the Warriors’ offensive scheme.

This particular first-quarter play set the tone for Saturday afternoon’s game against Misericordia, though. As running back Craig Needhammer got near the line of scrimmage, he saw a wall being formed in front of him, pushing Misericordia’s defense back 5, then 10, then 15 yards. It almost looked like a kickoff return wall the way it was blocked.

Needhammer picked up 15 yards on the play, setting the tone for a dominant performance from an embattled Warriors’ offensive line. Lycoming remained unbeaten in the Middle Atlantic Conference with a 52-14 win over Misericordia yesterday at David Person Field.

Lycoming scored 50 points in a game for the first time since beating FDU-Florham, 54-7, on the final day of the 2011 season.

With the offense putting on a show, the defense kept giving them opportunity after opportunity to score. The Warriors held a Misericordia offense with the second-best rushing attack in the country to just 157 yards on 43 attempts. Misericordia’s first-team offense had just 76 yards rushing on 25 carries. The Cougars were averaging more than 470 rushing yards coming into Saturday’s game.

“It’s good to get the momentum going and the confidence up,” Needhammer said. “We needed this, so we have to keep it moving.”

The Warriors showed off a dangerous passing game a week ago in a win over Wilkes when Tyler Jenny threw for a career-high 305 yards. Yesterday it showed its balance with 335 rushing yards, including a career-high 183 from Needhammer, breaking his previous single-game high of 130 yards he set just a week ago.

The junior running back often didn’t see a defender until he was 3 or 4 yards down field. Just two of Needhammer’s 18 carries Saturday went for fewer than 4 yards and 10 of the 18 went for 10 yards or more, including touchdown runs of 21, 23 and 36 yards.

In his first year as Lycoming’s featured running back, Needhammer already has 398 yards in three games and is averaging 7.7 yards per carry. He did it behind a starting offensive line of Garrett Hartman, Matt Patterson, Casey Strus and Matt Bloom which played is most physical game today, pushing around the Misericordia defensive line.

“They were doing a great job the whole time,” Needhammer said. “The line of scrimmage had to be 5 yards down field every play. They did a hell of a job in there.”

“I feel our offensive line has to be a big part of our offense. We have a lot of skill players and it’s up to the O-line to make sure we’re able to try and get them the ball so they can score touchdowns,” said Chaput, the right guard. “That’s been our motivation the last couple weeks, to get them in the end zone and do everything we can to get them there.”

Warriors head coach Mike Clark spoke with the line most of the week about developing a mean and physical mentality regardless of who the competition is. A second-year program, Misericordia was looking for its first-ever win and Clark wanted the offensive line to set the tone early.

It surely did as Needhammer had 94 rushing yards by the end of the first quarter and all 18 of his carries by halftime. The junior took the second half off as freshman Blake Bowman ran for a career-best 83 yards.

“(Needhammer) needs to touch the ball 20 times a game for us to be good because he’s good when he has it,” Clark said. “He’s one of our best offensive players, and arguably our most consistent offensive player which is a pretty big statement because we have players like Tyler Jenny, Matt Atkinson and Ryan Umpleby. We’re proud of the way Craig plays.”

Lycoming never lost its continuity on the offensive line even when starting center Casey Strus injured his ankle in the second quarter. Sophomore Matt Patterson moved to center and freshman Austin Mital, who often rotates in with the first team, kept up the Warriors domination on the offensive front.

Lycoming averaged 6.7 yards per carry. The 335 rushing yards was the first time the Warriors have eclipsed the 300-yard mark as a team since beating Misericordia in the season finale last year.

“It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you have to play physical,” Chaput said. “We had to move guys and give the running backs room and the quarterback time to throw. Coach Clark told us we have to be motivated to move the line of scrimmage every play.”

And as Needhammer ran to open spaces all afternoon, it opened up the play-action and down-field passing game of Lycoming. Jenny threw just 12 passes yesterday, averaging 19.8 yards for each of his nine completions, and 14.9 yards per attempt. He finished with 179 yards and two touchdowns.

In the last two weeks, Jenny has completed 29 of 33 passes for 484 yards and five touchdowns. He hit Matt Atkinson (3 catches, 68 yards) on a 7-yard scoring pass in the first quarter to give Lycoming a 21-7 lead yesterday. He added a 43-yard scoring pass to Atkinson in the second quarter on a beautifully thrown ball down the left seam to push Lycoming’s lead to 35-7.

Atkinson’s 18 receptions through three games ties his 2012 season total, and his four touchdown receptions match his career high for a season set in 2011.

“(The running game) opened up everything. It opens up everything down field in the pass game,” Jenny said. “It’s starting to come together, our drop-back passing game and the play-action stuff, too. The line held up really well and we were able to get stuff down field and we recognized blitzes and everything they were trying to do to create pressure.”

The defense took care of the rest for Lycoming, limiting the amount of time Misericordia’s offense possessed the ball. Quarterback Jeff Puckett, who entered the game as the nation’s leading rusher, was held to just 43 yards on 15 carries, more than 150 yards below his average.

Lycoming forced Puckett to wait and wait to make a decision in the Cougars’ option offense, never showing its hand early to allow a seam to form for big gains. Misericordia averaged just 3.7 yards per carry.

“Everyone on the defensive line played their man across the line,” Lycoming defensive tackle Dwight Hentz said. They didn’t try to make big plays and play around their blocks. We played really technical, sound assignment football.” We didn’t want him to sit back there with options.”

“They’re the best disciplined team we see,” Misericordia head coach Mark Ross said. “(Clark) does a great job with them. They just out-physicaled us and tackled really well. They played better than we did.”

Montoursville graduate Tim Martin led Misericordia with eight tackles, including six for loss. The sophomore linebacker is averaging just over five tackles per game for the Cougars.