Fake punt helps SU win

SELINSGROVE — There were plenty of reasons for Susquehanna head coach Tom Perkovich not to call for a fake punt Saturday afternoon in his season opener against Lycoming.

His River Hawks offense was facing fourth-and-4 from its own 36-yard line. They were already trailing the Warriors by six points. Lycoming had all of the momentum in the annual Stagg Hat Trophy Game.

But there was one good reason Perkovich had for running the fake: He thought it would work. And work it did.

Cam Ott took the short snap for a 59-yard gain to set up the game’s lone touchdown yesterday as Susquehanna defeated Lycoming, 7-6, at Amos Alonzo Stagg Field.

“I thought it was the right time,” Perkovich said. “When it’s a close game, they think you’re just going to punt and play defense I thought we had the opportunity to make a difference there.”

On a day where both offenses felt like they missed opportunities, that first of two fake punts executed by Susquehanna yesterday was anything but. The River Hawks created their own chance when none had been presented to them through the game’s first 15 minutes and it turned into the game-winning play.

“Coach Perk loves that and we love it, too,” said Ott, a Montoursville graduate who led all rushers with 129 rushing yards on 14 carries. “We’re not afraid to run it and we know we have the players to make plays. That’s why we go out there looking to do that kind of stuff.”

Lycoming had controlled the first 15 minutes of Saturday’s football game. It sustained two lengthy drives, but both ended in Jamie Fisher field goals, including the game’s opening drive where the Warriors had first-and-goal from the Susquehanna 3.

The only time Susquehanna had the ball in the first quarter, the possession ended in an interception, snapping quarterback Nick Crusco’s streak of 98 consecutive passes without an interception dating back to Week 7 last season.

And when Lycoming had the ball, a new look offensive line was creating space for running backs Sam Dressler and Dante Gipson. They were giving quarterbacks Collin Wright and Chase Williams to find receivers. Everything for the Warriors was clicking on all cylinders.

And then the fake punt happened. Ott ran off the left side of line to nothing but unoccupied field. He didn’t stop running until John Kim and Joe Pinzka forced him out of bounds at the Lycoming 5-yard line.

Five plays later Crusco rolled right and found Diamente Holloway for a 6-yard touchdown pass. And from that point on, everything about Saturday’s game changed. Lycoming couldn’t find room to run the ball. The quarterbacks didn’t have much time to throw. It failed to capitalize on a fumble and a blocked field goal. And it all started with the fake punt.

“We did a great job of executing,” Perkovich said. “We’re perfect on that here in our three years. That’s 8 for 8. I thought we needed a spark an that gave it to us to get the game-winning score. We needed to do something and that was the call we had to make.”

“We were in punt safe. So that’s the problem,” Lycoming head coach Mike Clark said. “That’s why you go to punt safe. That was mostly our defense out there. But I think we blew it and the result there indicates we did.”

That play was the biggest chunk play of Susquehanna’s day. And it completely shifted the complexion of the game. The River Hawks’ offense moved the ball to the tune of 400 yards even if it did fail to reach the end zone again.

A Susquehanna defense which had been shredded on the ground for 82 yards on 12 carries in the first quarter, allowed just 30 Lycoming rushing yards on 17 carries over the final three quarters. When Lycoming recovered a Crusco fumble on the fifth play of the second half, the Susquehanna defense forced a three-and-out to get the football back.

When the Warriors’ Cody Stemrich blocked a third-quarter field goal attempt and Trey Smith returned it to the Susquehanna 27-yard line, River Hawks safety Ryan Ganard intercepted a Wright pass at his own 3-yard line.

The Susquehanna defense allowed just two second-half first downs prior to Lycoming picking apart a prevent defense in the final 30 seconds for two more. The Warriors had just nine first downs Saturday. Of their 229 yards of offense, 121 of them came in the first quarter.

“That’s the first time I can remember we’ve come out and played really great defense,” Perkovich said. “The defense stood up and stepped up to make plays for us to win. Our motto this year is to take the next step, and that’s the next step in the evolution of our defense.”

“I thought we protected the quarterback OK. But we need to be more consistent rushing the football,” Clark said. “We have to throw and catch better and I have to call the right plays. I thought we had some other opportunities where we had to throw and catch it better. So we have to analyze it and see where we can improve there.”