Garner excelling for Lyco
Standing next to all-conference defensive tackle Ahmad Curtis, it would be easy to think Willie Garner can’t possibly play the same position. Curtis is a 6-foot-1, 300-pound mountain of man with the light feet of a ballet dancer and the strength and power of a swinging wrecking ball.
Garner is built a little differently at 5-foot-10 and 231 pounds. But their effective disruptiveness is equally similar. Garner gets low to the ground to start, like a compressed spring with energy waiting to be released. He explodes forward with the quickness and burst of a rocket propelled grenade.
As a true freshman, Garner has been quite the find for defensive coordinator Steve Wiser. A New Jersey native from Brick Memorial High School, head coach Mike Clark remembers watching Garner’s high school highlights impressed with how he played football. It’s why they wanted Garner in the blue and white Lycoming uniform.
He hasn’t disappointed since his arrival on campus. Garner was a standout from the start, putting himself in the rotation at defensive tackle with Curtis and sophomore Kyle Pierce. He plays with a tenacity and a relentless which hasn’t been, and probably can’t be, taught.
“The thing with Willie is he’s not really tall, but he’s strong and thick. And he’s athletic,” Clark said following Lycoming’s 23-10 win over Lebanon Valley on Saturday. “It’s a good combination. But if he’s two inches bigger, he’s probably not here. But we’re glad he’s here.”
Garner recorded a sack for the second consecutive game Saturday as he only continues to validate the coaches’ trust in him to be productive when he steps on the field. He provides a quickness which is just different than the quickness Curtis and Pierce have coming off the ball. He has the ability to play both the pass and the run effectively.
And he seems to be finding his sea legs as a pass-rusher with a dogged pursuit which doesn’t quit. His first career sack a week ago at Widener came as he stood up his blocker and attacked the quarterback as he tried to scramble past him. Against Lebanon Valley, he beat his blocker off the ball and chased down the quarterback like a cheetah chasing a gazelle.
The two plays offered different ways to accomplish the same task. His two sacks are tied with Curtis for most on the team and the fourth-most in the Middle Atlantic Conference.
“He’s been excellent. He’s been paying attention, watching Ahmad and getting better each day,” Lycoming cornerback D.J. Boyd said. “He’s not that big, but he has a big impact.”
“I just do my job. I just play boring defense like coach Wise says to,” Garner said. “(Pierce and Curtis) help me out a lot. They’re like big brothers to me. They’ve welcomed me in here and they’re making me a better player. I’m getting better every week.”
Garner’s emergence as a productive player allowed Wiser to suggest following a Week 1 loss to Susquehanna to try and play Pierce on both offense and defense. Pierce is a much better player against the run than he is against the pass and was used minimally the first week defensively because of what the situations dictated the Warriors’ personnel be.
So Wiser offered up one of his best defensive linemen to Clark’s offense because he knew he could cover that playing time with Garner. The move has worked two-fold as Garner posted a sack each of the last two weeks and had five solo tackles against Lebanon Valley’s run-heavy offense.
“He’s quick off the ball and he knows what he’s doing,” Boyd said. “We love that. Him and Ahmad in the middle, they’re tough.”
Here’s a closer look at Lycoming’s 23-10 win over Lebanon Valley on Saturday:
TIDE-TURNING PLAY: Lycoming was already leading 7-0 when Tyjah During retreated to his own 21-yard line to field his first punt of the game. When he looked forward after catching the 47-yard punt, there was nobody around him. If there was such a thing as outkicking your coverage, Lebanon Valley’s Adam Domovich did it, and provided ample running space for the Lycoming sophomore and he took advantage. The Warriors created a wall of blockers and, with it, a seam up the right sideline. During followed it and was a missed tackle from Domovich away from scoring. Instead, he had to settle with a 41-yard return and setting up the Warriors’ second touchdown. From that point on, Lycoming never relinquished control of the game.
BEST DEFENSIVE STAND: When Jamie Fisher kicked a field goal on the penultimate play of the first half, Lycoming extended its lead to 23-7. And while in control, was well within striking distance of the Flying Dutchmen, who received the second-half kickoff. And when Lebanon Valley quarterback Kody Kegarise scrambled for 42 yards on the fifth play of the second half, the Dutchmen were set up with first down at the Lycoming 17. But the Warriors’ defense stiffened and allowed just two yards over the next three plays with Garner and linebacker Mike Kalyan coming up with big stops before an incomplete pass. Lycoming forced Lebanon Valley to settle for a Nick Bentz 32-yard field goal, which turned out to be the only points scored in the second half by either team.
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAY: There are sections on Clark’s play chart which has plays designed for particular players. At times, he hasn’t been shy about saying he wants a play to get the ball in the hands of his best playmakers. Often times in the passing game, it means getting senior receiver Nick Costello involved. Saturday, with a 7-0 lead, he dialed up a play in which he allowed Costello to beat the defense find his way open in the end zone. With second down at the Dutchmen 18, Costello beat the cornerback off the line and then got behind the safety and quarterback Elijah Shemory delivered a perfect pass for an 18-yard touchdown which gave the Warriors a 14-0 lead. Shemory has thrown three touchdown passes this season, all of which have gone to Costello. Costello’s 18 career touchdown receptions moves him into a tie for sixth play on Lycoming’s career leaderboard and leaves him just one more behind a spot in the Top 5.
LOCAL ROUNDUP: Lycoming — In this third career start, quarterback Elijah Shemory of Jersey Shore completed just 10 of 22 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. He’s thrown one touchdown pass in each start this season. Montoursville graduate Keith Batkowski again started at running back, posting 80 yards rushing on 14 carries (5.7 ypc). He is seventh in the MAC this year averaging 71.3 rushing yards per game. Jersey Shore graduate Dom Loffredo and Hughesville graduate Trey Smith were each credited with two tackles, one solo and one assist, rotating in at linebacker.
Lebanon Valley — South Williamsport graduate Ryan Seagrave, a wide receiver, played in the game for the Flying Dutchmen, but did not record any statistics. A MAC Academic Honor Roll honoree, Saturday was Seagrave’s first game appearance this season.
LYCOMING OFFENSIVE MVP: Maybe this is cheating just a little bit, but he puts points on the board. Jamie Fisher once again provided enough points for Lycoming’s offense that it sat comfortably ahead of Lebanon Valley for the entire second half instead of being involved in a dog fight for the final 30 minutes. A week after setting the school record with four field goals in one game, he kicked three more, converting from 44, 34 and 27 yards. The 44-yarder was the second-longest of his career. His nine points-per-game average puts him in a tie for second place in the league for most points score through three weeks. His seven field goals this season are nearly twice as many as the second-most in the league.
“That’s real big for us, to be honest,” Lycoming offensive lineman Jacob Estevez said. “Jamie is one of the top contributors on the team in points. That’s cool, but we want it to be one point at a time with a PAT when we get six as an offense. But him and (punter) Connor Bell and our entire special teams is a big part of our team.”
LYCOMING DEFENSIVE MVP: The never-ending smile D.J. Boyd sports from the time he steps on the field to the time he leaves is infectious. He’s an emotional leader of the Warriors defense and creates energy and enthusiasm from his cornerback spot. Saturday he showed his versatility as the team’s best cover corner. He recorded four tackles, including assisting on a tackle for loss. He intercepted a pass which he returned 39 yards to set up one of Fisher’s three field goals. And he also returned two kickoffs for 71 yards after During left the game with an apparent injury. He’s a key cog in the MAC’s top-ranked defense.
“This is the first time since I’ve been here that I feel we’re all on the same page,” Boyd said. “We’re grinding together non-stop and I’m loving this team more than any other team I’ve been on.”
UNSUNG HERO: Special teams yards often go unnoticed in the box score, but During helped flip field position a couple times Saturday before leaving with an injury. The Maryland native had his biggest return, a 41-yarder, to help set up Costello’s touchdown reception. He also had another 10-yard punt return and a 30-yard kickoff return to start the game. During leads the MAC in punt return average at 13.1 yards per return and his longest kickoff return of the season of 59 yards is third-best in the league.
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.