Lycoming sputters in opener

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Mike Clark lifted the bill of his hat and scratched his head. Searching for the right words to describe Lycoming’s season-opening 30-2 loss to Brockport on Saturday was a fruitless effort.

The Warriors didn’t play very much like the team which was selected as the favorite to win the Middle Atlantic Conference. The defense, which had some question marks, was fantastic until it eventually wore down from being on the field too much. The offense, which returned most of its skill players and three starting offensive linemen, was disappointing.

For the second year in a row, Lycoming was embarrassed on opening day by Brockport. In each game the Warriors scored just two points. Yesterday’s came when C.J. Arhontakis blocked an extra-point attempt and Matt Malecki returned it to the end zone for two points.

“Offensively, we didn’t throw, we didn’t catch, we didn’t block,” Clark said. “We were really, really bad. We think we’re good on offense, but that was really bad.”

“I guess it’s a good thing Brockport’s not in our league because they embarrassed us two years in a row,” Lycoming running back Craig Needhammer said.

There was no sugarcoating yesterday’s loss. It was a brutal performance which closely resembled the performance the Warriors put forth in last year’s season-opening loss to the Golden Eagles at David Person Field. Lycoming was held to just 60 yards rushing on 25 carries (thanks in part to seven sacks from the Brockport defense). The Golden Eagles put up nearly 500 yards of offense. And a nasty Brockport defense allowed the Warriors to cross the 50-yard line just twice.

It was a worst-case scenario performance for Lycoming. Everything bad which could have happened seemed to happen. It was Sisyphus trying to repeatedly push a boulder up a mountain only to have it roll back on them for 60 minutes.

“This is definitely a wake-up call,” said Warriors linebacker Tyler Denike who led the team with 11 tackles.

“In by far our toughest test of the season, we completely underachieved,” Clark said. “Give (Brockport) credit for that. If that’s as good as we are, then I’ll be really disappointed.”

The positives were very minimal Saturday. Even the good thought of how well the defense played – it allowed just 16 points through three quarters – were wiped away by a pair of big plays in the fourth quarters.

Steve Wiser’s defense was brilliant in the first half, allowing the Golden Eagles just a 3-0 lead. Brockport and its earth-moving offensive line was gaining just 2.5 yards per rush. It allowed yards between the 20s, but nothing more.

Lycoming went to the locker room at halftime sprouting good feelings. Needhammer was averaging 8 yards per carry. Second-year starting quarterback Tyler Jenny was showing some rust, but was beginning to find a groove late in the half. All the signs were there for an explosive second half.

It just never happened. As Lycoming continued to struggle on third down – it was 4 for 16 in the game – the defense spent more and more time on the field.

“The game was there for us. It was 3-0. One score changes the momentum for everybody,” Lycoming left tackle Garrett Hartman said. “We couldn’t get a drive. We finally drove late in the game when the game was already our of reach and we still couldn’t put any points on the board.”

The Warriors’ third-down problems only further exasperated the entire team’s problems. Even though the defense was holding its own, it was spending a lot of time on the field and that time eventually added up to a tired squad which began surrendering big plays in the third and fourth quarters.

First and second downs weren’t a problem for the Lycoming offense. It continually put itself into third-and-short or third-and-medium situations. But Brockport’s defense did a great job of disguising blitzes, leaving both the Lycoming offensive line and Jenny guessing where the pressure was coming from.

Brockport recorded seven sacks, six of them coming against Jenny. Four of those sacks on Jenny came on either third down or with 3 yards or fewer to gain for a first down.

And a beautifully designed blitz on the opening series of the game forced Jenny into a quick throw which was intercepted.

“I think some of it was they were blitzing a lot where we weren’t expecting it,” Hartman said. “I think some of it was miscommunication and we weren’t communicating as well as we should have been.”

“They walked up a lot of guys then they would bail,” Needhammer said. “The first half we had a little trouble actually figuring out who was coming because they did a good job of disguising that. We made some adjustments, and we knew who was coming, but we didn’t execute. They just outplayed us.”

Brockport finally broke through with a big play it had just missed on a few times in the first half when quarterback Ty Stoldt found Andrew Mrozek for a 45-yard gain midway through the third quarter. It helped set up a Shireem Cobb 2-yard touchdown run.

The blocked and returned PAT by Malecki kept the game at a one-score deficit at just 9-2 with 7:20 to go in the third quarter.

Forty-two yards worth of rushes from Stoldt and a 32-yard pass to Eric Malave set up a 4-yard touchdown pass to Mrozek to push Brockport’s lead to 16-2. The Golden Eagles added a 47-yard scoring pass to Darryl Thompson over a tired defense in the fourth quarter, and Tyrone Nichols broke a scintillating 60-yard touchdown run later in the quarter, breaking through arm tackles on his way to the end zone.

Yesterday was the first time a Lycoming defense had allowed 30 points since a 31-28 loss to Widener on Sept. 17, 2011.

“Offensively, we’ve got some work to do and we’re going to keep doing it,” Clark said. “We talk all the time about making plays when they’re there because there’s no guarantee they’re going to be there again.”

“I think this is a low point. I hope it will be,” Needhammer said. “From here we can only go up, it’s just a matter of how much, and that’s all in our hands.”