Small Lyco DB makes point to play physical
Aaron Davis knew he was being picked on. He didn’t particularly care. But he knew it.
FDU-Florham’s lateral assault on the Lycoming defense in the Warriors’ 48-21 win Saturday put the 5-foot-5, 150-pound Davis on an island quite often. With the Devils’ bubble and rocket screen game-based offense, they would isolate two receivers on one side of the first, one would block the first cornerback to approach the line as the other caught the ball.
More often than not, that cornerback was Davis. But he played with a physicality that belied his size, trying to run through the blocks from the receivers, doing anything he could to get in the way of the developing screen. Davis finished with a team-high seven tackles Saturday in a truly strong performance.
“You have to be physical. Especially with a 5-5 frame that’s 135 pounds. You gotta be physical,” Davis said. “We knew they were going to do that from the week of preparation we had. But we still have to come up and make a play and have the rest of the defense hold him up.”
As that point man on the coverage, Davis’ role wasn’t necessarily about knocking passes away or preventing completions. More often than not, his goal was simply to re-route the receiver, force him to go lateral so his teammates could rally to the football and make a tackle.
The Devils tried to muscle around the undersized Davis. But he’s used to being the smallest guy on the field. He’s been it since his days of Pop Warner football. He’s learned to use his size to his advantage, getting leverage underneath blockers to make tackles. In fact, he said Saturday his size helps him to better get that leverage.
“It’s a lot easier when I got against taller receivers,” Davis said. “I can get up under their pads and press them out. You have to work with what you’ve got.”
Of Davis’ seven tackles Saturday, five were solo stops. It’s not really a surprising number considering he was always the point man on those screen plays and at times had to make the play before the defense could rally.
“For a little guy, he’s got really good speed and he’s a competitive kid,” Lycoming head coach Mike Clark said. “That’s a really big part of it. I thought he did a nice job.”
Both of FDU’s touchdowns against the first-team Lycoming defense came on long drives. The Devils needed 12 plays to score their first touchdowns, and 11 for their second. Even their final touchdown against the second defense was a 15-play effort.
For Davis and the rest of the Warriors, that was just fine. They were OK with the Devils nickel and diming their way down the field, especially after Lycoming took a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter.
The Lycoming defense allowed 52 completions Saturday, a normally outrageous number. But it was because of efforts like the one Davis put forward that they were 52 completions for nominal gains.
“I feel like we did a great job against them,” Davis said. “If they want to nickel and dime up the field, OK. But we’re going to hold it down between the 20s.”
Here’s a closer look at Lycoming’s 48-21 win over FDU-Florham on Saturday:
TIDE-TURNING PLAY: Lycoming was already well in control of Saturday’s game, holding a 14-0 lead when FDU lined up to punt on the first play of the second quarter. In a game full of big special teams plays for Lycoming, Gianni Bryant-Lopez delivered the first, getting a hand in the way and blocking the punt. It was the first blocked punt for Lycoming since Joe Pawlowski had one in an upset of then nationally-ranked Delaware Valley in 2015. It also set up the Warriors’ offense for their third touchdown of the day, a 13-yard run from Sam Dressler. It pushed the Lycoming lead to 21-0 and the Warriors cruised from there to a homecoming win.
BEST DEFENSIVE STAND: FDU was knocking on the door for a score which could have cut its deficit to as few as six points with a touchdown. Set up at midfield, the Devils needed just two plays to get to the Lycoming 34-yard line. But that’s as far as they got. The defense forced three consecutive incompletions before Jonathan Zedar had tremendous coverage on a fourth-down deep ball which fell incomplete and turned the ball over on downs. Five plays later, Lycoming’s Brock Zollicoffer took a speed sweep to the left and found a wide open lane for a 39-yard touchdown run, extending the Warriors’ lead to 20 points.
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAY: Earlier in the week, Clark talked about how their numbers on the speed sweeps Lycoming has run this year weren’t great, but it had opened avenues for quarterback Chase Williams to pull the ball on a read option component and turn it into big runs. When Zollicoffer went 39 yards for the touchdown in the third quarter, Clark took the read component out of the play because he wanted to run the sweep. What Lycoming got was a perfectly blocked play. Receivers Nick Costello and Mike Mulvihill sealed the outside edge with blocks on defensive backs, and Dressler sealed the inside edge with a beautiful downfield cut block. It left nothing for Zollicoffer to do but run to the end zone for a touchdown.
“The first couple (speed sweeps) we ran, Chase read. That one I wanted to go to Brock, so we called the sweep and not the read component of it,” Clark said. “They did a great job of blocking the perimeter. That sprung it. We can do both and I think it puts a little more stress on the defense.”
LOCAL ROUNDUP: Lycoming – Montoursville graduate Keith Batkowski finished as the Warriors’ leading rusher, carrying eight times for 52 yards and his first career touchdown. All of the sophomore’s carries came on a fourth-quarter drive against the first-team FDU defense. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry and made a fantastic read on a cutback to score from 6 yards out.
Hughesville graduate Trey Smith and Loyalsock graduate Caleb Robbins both started at linebacker for the Warriors. Smith recorded four tackles (three solo), including a nice hit on an underneath drag route in the first quarter. Robbins had two tackles (one solo), but made a tremendous stop on the first play of the game when he got out to the edge early on a bubble screen and dropped the receiver for a 3-yard loss. Williamsport graduate Tyler Gardner also saw significant time at tight end for Lycoming.
LYCOMING OFFENSIVE MVP: At 6-5, strong and athletic, Costello might be the biggest matchup problem in the entire Middle Atlantic Conference and he showed why in multiple phases of the game Saturday. He high-pointed the ball perfectly on a first-quarter fade pass for a 5-yard touchdown reception. He ran a great route to get behind the FDU defense and made a fingertip catch for a 54-yard touchdown reception a little over a minute later. And he also had an important seal block on the outside on Zollicoffer’s touchdown run. It was an all-around impressive performance for Costello.
“He’s a nice security blanket knowing if they have a little guy at corner and they want to man him up,” Clark said. “It’s one of those things like where we’re better than you, and if we have to go to (the fade), we will. There aren’t many 6-foot-5 corners out there.”
LYCOMING DEFENSIVE MVP: Zedar got credit for only one pass break-up on FDU’s 67 pass attempts Saturday. But don’t be led to believe the senior cornerback didn’t have a big impact on the football game. While the vast majority of FDU’s passing game was lateral and underneath drag routes, the few times they did take shots downfield, Zedar was there with blanket coverage. Yes, the Warriors did give up 52 completions and 350 yards, but they came at clips of 5.2 yards per attempts and 6.7 yards per completion, numbers they’d gladly take against any opponent. And Zedar was a big part of the reason those numbers weren’t higher.
“He’s a senior who’s played quite a bit for us,” Clark said. “Jon is just really solid.”
QUOTABLE: “I’m definitely comfortable being .500 going into Widener week. Widener week is crazy around here and everybody knows that,” Costello said. “So we have to go down there and see what we can do against them. They’re a talented team. We have to have a great week of practice and get after it on Saturday.”
UNSUNG HERO: Connor Bell continues to be really good in the punting game for Lycoming. The Warriors are the third-best team in net punting average in the MAC behind only Delaware Valley and Widener despite Bell having just the eighth-highest net punting average as an individual. But his importance shows in the fact that FDU didn’t return one of his five kicks on Saturday. Bell continues to kick with great height and direction allowing for tremendous special teams coverage by the Warriors.
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.