Warriors still control their playoff destiny
It was of little consolation at the time. Standing in the University of Rochester’s indoor rec facility after having their butts handed to them by Brockport for the second consecutive year, the Lycoming players and coaches reluctantly acknowledged the bright side of Saturday’s loss.
The bright side, however small it seemed, was that it wasn’t a loss in the Middle Atlantic Conference. The Warriors’ 30-2 loss Saturday was maybe even more disheartening than the one it suffered a year ago at the hands of the Golden Eagles.
A veteran offensive group, which was expected to help turn the tides from last year’s 24-2 loss, kept spinning its tires. A defense integrating some new parts and playing without two key starters was brilliant in the first half before wearing down late in the second half.
So as players and coaches stood in the dimly lit rec center, with random people jogging by on the indoor track, whatever consolation was presented to them was decisively brushed aside. Saturday’s game was a game the Warriors felt they could win, and some would likely have said they felt they should win.
For as thorough as the butt-kicking was, there is that glimmer of hope, though. Despite being 0-1 overall, Lycoming still controls its own destiny within the conference as MAC play opens up in just three days at David Person Field against Wilkes.
“I guess it’s a good thing Brockport’s not in our league,” Lycoming running back Craig Needhammer said following an 86-yard rushing performance. “They’ve embarrassed us two years in a row.”
It’s not that the schedule gets any easier coming into MAC play. After opening league play with the Colonels this week, Lycoming faces second-year program Misericordia before games against league title contenders Widener and Delaware Valley, the last two MAC champions.
But now that the Warriors begin MAC play, they still control their own playoff destiny. Lycoming was selected by the league’s coaches as a favorite to win the MAC title for a reason. This is still a dangerous football team, albeit now with some concerns which need to, and will be, addressed.
The bottom line is a Division III team doesn’t have to go undefeated to make the NCAA playoffs. It merely has to win its league championship. The loss to Brockport, no matter how lopsided or embarrassing, has no bearing on whether Lycoming does or doesn’t win its league championship.
What it does affect is the chances for the Warriors to gain an at-large berth into the tournament. After last year’s loss in the season-opener to Brockport, Lycoming won eight of its final nine games, its only loss coming to an undefeated Widener team which needed a touchdown in the final 30 seconds to defeat the Warriors.
But even an 8-2 record with a strong performance against an eventual Elite 8 team wasn’t enough to get the Warriors into the postseason. The likelihood of the decision was the first-weekend loss to Brockport, a team which finished the season 6-4, did more damage than the game against Widener did good.
So that’s the fear now for Lycoming. There’s no room for another mistake. No room for even a hiccup. The truth is if the Warriors want to make the postseason for the first time since 2008, they’ll have to run the table on their season.
“What we did (Saturday), we lost any margin for error,” Warriors head coach Mike Clark said. “History shows two losses isn’t going to get us in. Unless (Brockport) goes and becomes a great, great team – which they could – probably the only bright spot is that this wasn’t a league game.”
Mitch Rupert covers Lycoming football for the Sun-Gazette. He can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Mitch_Rupert.