Defense helps carry Lyco to win
CHESTER — Lycoming’s defense had already sacked Widener quarterback Sean McGaughey twice when he took the final snap of the second quarter looking for anything downfield. Warriors defensive tackle Ahmad Curtis shucked his blocker to the side as if he was swatting a gnat from his face.
In just a couple steps for Curtis to ended up in McGaughey’s face. He threw all 300-plus of his pounds on the quarterback’s back and rode him to the ground for sack No. 3.
Curtis and the Lycoming defense set a tone in the first half. They carried it through all 60 minutes Saturday at Leslie Quick Stadium as Lycoming posted a 33-19 win, snapping a four-game losing streak to the Pride. The Warriors held Widener to just 34 rushing yards, Keith Batkowski and Jacob Fimbres both topped 100 rushing yard, and Jamie Fisher kicked a school-record four field goals as Lycoming evened its record at 1-1 and sent Widener to an 0-2 start.
It was a far cry from the 31-point thrashing it took a week earlier at the hands of Susquehanna, a team which upset No. 18 Johns Hopkins on Saturday. And it was a glimpse into what Clark and his team have felt they were capable of all offseason.
“Last week isn’t who we are. I’d like to think (Saturday) is,” said Clark, who won his 60th career game yesterday. “We’re good. We thought we would be good coming in. I’m not surprised we came down here and won.”
For the most part, Lycoming controlled nearly every aspect of Saturday’s game against Widener, who it hadn’t beaten since Sept. 28, 2013. The only hiccup for the Warriors was a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter and a 42-yard kickoff return which set up another score.
But that was about all the Pride could muster against a Lycoming defensive front seven which should have been reported for bullying for as much as it harassed McGaughey. The Warriors finished with four sacks, one each for Curtis, Zach Kovach, Willie Garner and Andre Jackson.
And when they weren’t getting to the quarterback, it was turning the line of scrimmage into a brick wall Widener never found a wrecking ball to plow through. After Donte Harrell ran for 12 yards on the first play of the game, Lycoming held Widener’s rushing attack to just 22 yards on its final 29 carries.
The 34 rushing yards allowed by the Warriors were the fewest since allowing just 32 to King’s on Sept. 20, 2014.
“I’m at a loss for words. I guess our run defense is getting better and better,” said Curtis, who finished with five tackles but may have been the most disruptive defensive player for the Warriors yesterday. “I can’t even say it’s one person on this line. It’s the whole D-line, and our linebackers stepped up, too, because they filled the gaps. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
That’s where the tone was set for Lycoming. They made life difficult on a Widener offense oozing with talent and speed. Running backs found running lanes closed tighter than the cap on a shaken up soda bottle. McGaughey didn’t have time to survey the field to go through his progressions, completing just 14 of 25 passes.
McGaughey made a crucial mistake when Curtis flushed him out of the pocket in the second quarter and he hit Lycoming linebacker Jarrell Payne in the chest for an interception. The Warriors’ offense capitalized on the turnover with a 1-yard Elijah Shemory touchdown run which pushed Lycoming’s lead to 20-7 at halftime.
“We literally did everything we were coached to do,” Curtis said. “We got off the ball. We got penetration. We got to the quarterback. We gave them pressure. We did everything we were coached to do.”
“I have so much respect for (defensive coordinator Steve Wiser) and (defensive backs coach Mark Surma),” Clark said. “You have to hire good people and let them do their job and they do a great job of getting us prepared. They play really well off each other and I thought our defense was tremendous.”
Lycoming’s offense made sure the effort didn’t go for naught. A week after it ran for just 42 yards and turned the ball over six times, the Warriors’ offense looked like a totally different unit yesterday. Shemory was efficient in his second game. The Jersey Shore graduate completed 10 of 15 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown.
An offensive line which was challenged to be better earlier in the week by Clark to improve upon last week’s disastrous performance played like the veteran group it is. It got reinforcements from defensive tackle Kyle Pierce who played both ways Saturday taking snaps at offensive guard as well at defensive tackle.
The group responded to Clark’s challenge, opening creases in the first half to take some pressure off Shemory, then blowing holes wide open in the second half to gain chunks of yards at a time. Fimbres, a junior tailback, recorded career highs of 23 carries and 117 rushing yards. Batkowski, a junior, also had career highs with 28 carries and 101 rushing yards. It was the first time Lycoming had two 100-yard rushers since Craig Needhammer and Blake Bowman did it Nov. 1, 2014, against Misericordia.
“We said this week if we run for 200-plus yards, we’re going to win the game,” said Batkowski, who flew over the offensive line for a 2-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. “Our O-line can bully people. I couldn’t be more proud of my team. It was a rough first game last week and we could have easily come in here and hung our heads being on the road and playing a good team. But overcoming adversity is what Lyco football’s all about.”
The successful running game allowed Lycoming to pick and choose its moments to let loose with Shemory, who was intercepted four times in his first collegiate game against Susquehanna. They took some pressure off him early by running the ball in some third-and-long situations. But as the Warriors began to march late in the first quarter, they called on Shemory to sprint out to his left and find Brock Zollicoffer for a 13-yard completion on third-and-6.
Three plays later, Shemory put a pass on the numbers on an out pattern to Nick Costello to convert and third-and-9. Those two conversions helped set up Batkowski’s touchdown run which gave Lycoming a 7-0 lead.
Shemory later found Zollicoffer behind the defense down the sideline for a 40-yard connection which setup the third of Fisher’s field goals. And on third-and-5 on the Warriors’ next possession, Shemory stared down a blitz and threw a perfect corner route to Costello, who muscled into the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown reception.
This was the quarterback Clark had seen take hold of the starting quarterback job in a joint practice with Ithaca and a scrimmage against Franklin & Marshall. He threw passes with deft precision to receivers coming out of breaks. He dropped a pair of dimes on deep passes to Zollicoffer leading to the the senior’s 102-yard receiving effort. And more importantly he was careful with the football, not forcing the issue when there was nobody open, and making sure to cover the football when the Widener defense did break through.
“That was the kid we saw in the preseason,” Clark said. “He got hit a little and responded. I thought he played a good game.”
“I was confident throwing the ball,” Shemory said. “I wouldn’t say I was hesitant, but I made sure what I was doing was the right thing to do. I was making the right reads. It was nothing too risky. It was nice getting this win and getting the team behind me. It gives them confidence in me and it gives me confidence in myself.”