Lyco football still has playoff possibilities

The scenario laid out by Lycoming head football coach Mike Clark earlier this week sounded wonderful. A win Saturday for the Warriors would send out the 13-member senior class with a career winning rate north of 70 percent, a number some teams would kill for.

But the number alone just doesn’t seem to be enough for this group. There’s importance in that one win the Warriors need. Anything which is still possible in terms of a Middle Atlantic Conference championship and a potential playoff spot starts with one win Saturday against Stevenson.

Wins are nice, according to senior Kabongo Bukasa, but this group of seniors wanted more.

“We don’t care if your picture is on the wall or if your name is in the paper. Get the ring,” Bukasa said earlier this week. “Most of us in the locker room never had a ring. Especially me. I’ve never made the playoffs, never won a ring. But I want that experience.”

Believe it or not, those two wants by the reigning MAC Defensive Player of the Year are still attainable. Lycoming can claim a share of its 15th MAC championship with a win over Stevenson and a loss by Lebanon Valley to Albright on Saturday.

The Warriors can also snag the MAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament with a win, a Lebanon Valley loss and a Widener win over Delaware Valley.

It’s going to be just another whirlwind day in what has been a season with more ups and downs than the carousel horses at Knoebels.

“The thing is, we let it happen,” Bukasa said. “We had control and we let it happen.”

There will be finality in Saturday’s game. The Warriors will know definitively when the clock hits all zeroes on Saturday what their fate is.

It’s not like last year’s season finale against Misericordia when they had to wait until the college football selection show Sunday evening to find out if they were an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament as the second-place finisher in the MAC. It’s become nearly impossible for two-loss teams to receive an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament, so the likelihood a potentially 7-3 Lycoming team could get an at-large bid is very slim.

So either all the puzzle pieces fall neatly into place for Lycoming, or they’ll be collecting equipment next week.

“If Lebanon Valley wins, they certainly deserve it. They lost their first league game and have won out,” Clark said. “If they lose and we’re fortunate enough to win, then we’ll be co-champs. I’m not going to complain about being co-champions. Being co-champions is better than not being champions. And if we win, Widener wins and Albright wins, then we’ll play whoever they want us to play wherever they want us to play the following week.”

Clark wouldn’t call it a lost season if things don’t break in favor of the Warriors this weekend. The last three seasons have seen Lycoming take a lot of positive steps toward becoming the program it once was under legendary coach Frank Girardi, and even if this year doesn’t end with a MAC title or a playoff berth, there’s positives to be stripped from it.

“If we were to lose Saturday, I would be really disappointed because to be 6-4 with this team just wouldn’t be good enough,” Clark said. “I think we beat some really good football teams this year.”

But exhilarating wins over Widener, Delaware Valley and Albright – which all came down to the game’s final drive – aren’t enough. Eight and two seasons are great. Seven and three seasons are tolerable. But sooner or later there has to be more.

As Clark stood and recounted the ways Lycoming beat FDU-Florham last week, 55-12, he was still stewing from the loss at King’s the week prior when the Warriors didn’t put their best effort on the field. While the fans and maybe even the players are able to put big wins or bad losses behind them in the immediate aftermath of a football game, they stick with the coaching staff.

“I think we’ve positioned ourselves to be in contention, and really the last three years we’ve been down to the wire,” Clark said. “One of these years we’re going to get lucky, but it’s because we’ve put ourselves in a position where we can get lucky. Hopefully one of these years we’re good enough where we can beat everybody.”

For now, though, the Warriors don’t have to worry about beating everybody. It has to worry about beating only Stevenson, a team it’s never lost to. Because of all the possible outcomes this weekend, the positive ones only happen with a win.