Warriors not giving up on this season
Don’t think Lycoming is giving up on the season now. Not after all the Warriors have been through this season. Not when it would have been so easy to give up eight weeks ago after an 0-3 start.
Saturday’s game at Stevenson means the world to this team. It may not seem like much, but finishing the season with a .500 record is priority No. 1 for the Warriors.
Lycoming has been left for dead multiple times this season, most recently when last Saturday’s loss to Lebanon Valley left the Warriors with nothing but pride to play for in this week’s season finale. But pride can be a tremendous motivator. And even in the midst of the third loss of the season by four points or less, it was quite apparent Lycoming is taking nothing for granted and is keenly focused on a trip to Owings Mills, Maryland, this weekend.
“This is absolutely huge,” safety Joe Pinzka said after the loss to Lebanon Valley. “We wanted to have a winning season and it just didn’t happen. But we have to send the seniors off the right way and go to Baltimore and do the best we can.”
The Warriors were knocked out of the running for a spot in the MAC-Centennial Bowl Series when it fell to 4-5 overall with the loss to Lebanon Valley. Now, the Warriors are playing to not have a losing season and for any kind of momentum a road win against a quality program like Stevenson can provide.
Lycoming hasn’t had three consecutive losing seasons since 1972-74, the first three seasons in the career of Hall of Fame head coach Frank Girardi. The Warriors haven’t had a winning season since going 8-2 in 2014. It’s a list they’d rather not join.
“Someone asked me if I want to win this game more than the others,” Lycoming coach Mike Clark said. “No. I want to win every game.”
It would have been easy for the entire Lycoming team to throw around excuses following last week’s loss. A bad penalty on a fourth-down play which would have ended a Lebanon Valley series instead extended a drive which the Dutchmen kicked a field goal.
Oh, and then there was the team bus which broke down on the way to Annville early Saturday morning. That’s right, the bus carrying the defensive members of the team broke down Saturday morning in Shamokin Dam and didn’t arrive at Lebanon Valley until just before noon. Lycoming got a late start on its warm-ups and players were still filing into the stadium as the Warriors worked through pre-game warm-ups.
“It’s still no excuse for how we played in the first half, though,” Pinzka said. “It throws you off your routine, but there’s no reason for us to come out flat like we did. It did effect our normal routine, but what are you going to do?”
But nobody made excuses following Saturday’s loss. Instead, players and coaches alike pointed out that they just didn’t play well enough to win. And as the sting of the loss hurt, focus turned quickly to salvaging what was left of the season.
“Nobody wants to have a losing season,” Nick Costello said. “We’re going to do everything we can to beat Stevenson next week and set the tone for next year.”
Here’s a closer look at Lycoming’s 20-17 loss to Lebanon Valley on Saturday:
TIDE-TURNING PLAY: Not only did it look like Lycoming had a defensive stop, but it appeared to have forced a turnover on downs. Lebanon Valley was marching, perched inside the Warriors’ 30-yard line, on its first possession of the third quarter when it faced a fourth-and-8. The Flying Dutchmen tried to hit a deep ball down the right sideline and Lycoming defensive back Johnathan Zedar played it perfectly. He found the football, stuck out his left hand and knocked the pass away for an apparent turnover on downs. But then a phantom flag flew as an official thought Zedar had interfered despite not moving the receiver at all. The flag gave the Dutchmen a first down at the 12, and four plays later Marcus Brown kicked a 30-yard field goal. They were the decisive points in the loss.
“We did not lose because of the officials,” Lycoming head coach Mike Clark said. “The DPI was a bad call. … I thought out kid made a good play. I really thought he did.”
BEST DEFENSIVE STAND: Lycoming trailed Lebanon Valley, 10-7, at halftime, but the deficit could have been even worse if not for the Warriors’ defense stiffening inside the 5-yard line. Lebanon Valley had picked up some chunk plays, including a 35-yard pass and a 26-yard run by Steve Salermo to put the Dutchmen in a goal-to-go situation. With second-and-goal from the Lycoming 4, middle linebacker Zach Kovach and cornerback D.J. Boyd made a great read on a sweep play to drop Salermo for a 3-yard loss. The defense then forced an incomplete pass on a throw-away, making Lebanon Valley settle for a chip-shot field goal and a 10-7 lead instead of a touchdown led.
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAY: Hmm, what to pick here? Oh, maybe the longest play from scrimmage in school history? Sure, why not? Truth be told, when Lycoming was backed up to its own 1-yard line, Clark gave explicit instructions to quarterback Chase Williams to snap the ball on two, with a hard count on one, to see if they could draw an anxious Lebanon Valley defense offsides. When it didn’t work, Williams took the snap from under center, faked a handoff, and planted his feet in the end zone as receiver Nick Costello made a jab step to the inside and broke free down the sideline to the outside. Williams dropped a dime into the hands of Costello as the safety was late to help cover, and the 6-foot-5 Costello outran everyone for a 99-yard touchdown pass.
“Anytime we’re backed up we try to go on two. If we get an offsides, it’s first-and-5,” Clark said. “When we don’t get it, it’s our best kid, there’s a ton of field there and a ton of space to cover. It was worth a shot.”
“It would have been cooler if we won the game,” Costello said. “But it’s a good accomplishment. I’ll take it.”
LOCAL ROUNDUP: Loyalsock graduate Caleb Robbins started at outside linebacker and recorded a solo tackle for Lycoming. Montoursville graduate Keith Batkowski and Williamsport graduate Tyler Gardner both saw game action.
LYCOMING OFFENSIVE MVP: On a day where Lycoming had 311 yards of offense and 99 of them came on one play, there weren’t a bunch of superb performances to pick from. But Williams, outside an early interception, played better than a quarterback who had missed a game because of a shoulder injury. He finished 18 of 31 for 226 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 7.3 yards per attempt and 12.6 per completion. It was a solid performance from a quarterback who has quietly put together a quality season for the Warriors.
LYCOMING DEFENSIVE MVP: Freshman defensive lineman Matt Galasso has earned praise from his head coach on a number of separate occasions this fall. The Roman Catholic product was at his best on Saturday afternoon. Not only did he record a career-best eight tackles, but two of them were for loss and one was a sack. The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder is supposed to join the Lycoming wrestling team this winter as a potential contributor at heavyweight, but he’s still got one game left to be a heavyweight contributor in Steve Wiser’s defense.
QUOTABLE: “We weren’t as physical as we would have liked to have been,” Pinzka said. “We’ve been stressing how physical they were and we had to be more physical than them, and we weren’t. As a defense we had some good series, but we had to limit every series to no more than seven plays, and several times they had longer drives than seven plays. That’s not acceptable. We have a goal chart and (Saturday) we didn’t meet any of those goals.”
UNSUNG HERO: Brock Zollicoffer is one of the dynamic playmakers Clark loves to get the football to. And in two tough third-down spots on Saturday, the junior made a brilliant catch to pick up a short first down conversion. But on the final one, he took a vicious blow to his head and was lost for the game with an apparent head injury. The good news is Zollicoffer walked off the field on his own power.
Mitch Rupert covers Lycoming football for the Sun-Gazette. He can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Mitch_Rupert.