Warriors head to FDU-Florham tied for 1st in MAC

The trap isn’t lost on Lycoming’s Jeff Coplin. Getting complacent after two strong performances and wins would be easy for the Warriors. But he and his teammates are fighting that urge.

This is a position nobody on this Lycoming team has been in before. They enter today’s game at FDU-Florham tied for first place in the Middle Atlantic Conference and facing the league’s only undefeated team. It’s a position the Warriors haven’t been in much since it last posted a winning record in 2014.

Lycoming hasn’t entered Week 4 with a 2-1 record since the 2014 season when the Warriors finished 8-2. So what Coplin and his teammates understand is they haven’t had enough experience with this situation to allow themselves to get complacent.

“Growing up, I’ve always loved competition, so this is stellar,” the Lycoming safety said earlier this week. “It feels even greater knowing the guys in front of me have the same energy. You have to be mature enough to handle success just as much as you need the maturity to handle adversity.”

“I feel like we’ve have been here since I’ve been here,” Lycoming senior receiver Brock Zollicoffer said. “Now that we’re here, it’s nothing old to us. We’re still fighting because we don’t want to go back to how we were.”

Where they were is three consecutive losing seasons from 2015 through 2017, something which hadn’t happened at Lycoming since the 1972 through 1974 seasons. This idea of playing meaningful conference games at any point in the season is exactly where head coach Mike Clark and his players had been trying to return the program.

Now, the opportunity is in front of them. Through the first week of conference play, there are just six teams in the 11-team conference without a conference loss. Four of them are playing head-to-head this week as Lycoming travels to FDU-Florham and King’s hosts Stevenson.

“This is a big game for us. It probably is for FDU as well,” Clark said. “We knew that first weekend half the league was going to be in first place and half the league wasn’t. The challenge is really to stay there. We’re excited about it. It should be a good football game.”

FDU’s start to the season has been one of the more surprising story lines within the MAC. They’re the lone undefeated team in the league after beating The College of New Jersey, William Paterson and Alvernia over the first three weeks. While the Devils are 3-0, the combined record of their opponents is just 1-6 with that lone win from Alvernia, a first-year program.

But don’t think that’s changing how Lycoming is approaching this game. The same thing can be said of the Warriors who have beaten winless Widener and winless Lebanon Valley for its two wins. Instead, the Warriors are focusing on how they’re playing the highest-scoring (38.3 ppg) team and the MAC passing leader (304 ypg).

It’s a challenge Lycoming is prepared for. The Warriors’ defense has given up the fewest yards per game (252.3) through three weeks, which is 26 yards better than second-best FDU.

“A big part of this football game will be with our eyes, especially because they’re a pass-heavy offense,” said Coplin, who picked up his first career interception against Lebanon Valley. “We have to keep our eyes on our keys and react to the run. We have to make sure we stay over the top on the pass and make them run. We have to understand that running is not their strong point. We want to make them do that as much as possible.”

Today’s test will be a different kind of test for the Lycoming defense. FDU is an offense which likes to stretch the width of the field to open its offense. The success of the Warriors’ defense could hinge on its linebackers, a quick, athletic group which feels like it has the ability to matchup with the Devils’ offense.

Since even before the season began, Clark has been touting the collective speed of his team’s linebackers. They rotate in players like hockey line changes and have helped the Warriors allow the second-fewest rushing yards in the league.

“That’s where you hope being deep there gives you the ability to matchup and not necessarily have to go to a nickel or dime defense,” Clark said. “It comes down to what’s the down and distance and what do we need to do? There’s different guys with different skillsets and ti comes down to what (co-defensive coordinators Mark Surma and Steve Wiser) try to play.”

“We’ve seen on film they run a lot of shallows and a lot of crosses. So I’m sure our linebackers are going to be tested,” Coplin said. “We have a lot of good linebackers in our personnel and our depth is there. We should be fine.”