Warriors’ O-line struggled in loss to Susquehanna

Lycoming coach Mike Clark didn’t mince words with his offensive line following last week’s loss to Susquehanna. A veteran group returning four starters needs to be better.

It’s a simplistic view of a terrible start to the season. But more was expected from a group which had played 89 collective games in their careers.

That’s the message Clark passed on to the group following last week’s 38-7 loss to the River Hawks. The line has to be better today if the Warriors hope to avoid starting 0-2 for the third time in four seasons.

“It was not a good performance from those guys,” Clark said earlier this week. “Brad (Stubbs) is a really good player. Jacob Estevez, in his first start, I thought did pretty good. If we want to win football games, we have to be better.”

No matter how the Lycoming offense has evolved over the years, the base of everything the Warriors do still revolves around being able to run the football. The matter is exacerbated with true freshman starting quarterback Elijah Shemory. Clark, as the team’s play-caller, doesn’t want to be in a position where he’s asking Shemory to drop back 30-plus times a game to throw the football.

In Week 1 against Susquehanna, the running game never got going. The Warriors carried 36 times for just 45 yards. Take out the four sacks recorded by the River Hawks defense and the numbers still aren’t much better at 32 carries and 74 yards.

The Warriors had just two carries of 10-plus yards last week. One was a one-cut burst from Jacob Fimbres in the second quarter which set up Lycoming’s lone touchdown. The other came in a pseudo 2-minute drill at the end of the first half when Keith Batkowski popped a draw play for 12 yards.

Batkowski, a Montoursville graduate who earned his first start at running back last week, gained 33 yards on 11 carries. Fimbres, a sophomore from California coming off a torn ACL, gained 19 yards on 10 carries.

The 45 rushing yards for Lycoming were the fewest since recording just 42 yards in a loss at Widener last October.

“We definitely had way too many mistakes to be anywhere as close to as talented as we can be,” said Stubbs, a returning first-team all-conference selection. “There were a lot of mistakes that can be fixed. There were a lot of little things and a lot of glaring big things. The good news is it can be fixed. We just have to come out here and work.”

Lycoming is facing a Widener defense which struggled to stop the run in last week’s overtime loss to Rowan. The Profs averaged nearly seven yards per carry against the Pride 10 days ago, putting up 328 rushing yards.

Widener did play without senior All-America defensive tackle Vince Char a week ago who was held out with a lower body injury. Clark said Lycoming is preparing for the Widener defense assuming Char is going to play. He’s a big body at 300 pounds who is nimble and has put up 225 pounds in the bench press more than 30 times.

Controlling Char will be the key to finding some holes in the running game. In last year’s game he recorded nine tackles, including 1 1/2 for loss.

“The problem is you don’t know where he’s going to play,” Clark said. “We know where he played last year and can make some assumptions about where he’ll play this year, but we really have no idea. They have a new defensive coordinator. Schematically, I think they’re similar, but there are also some differences.”

“Even if he doesn’t play, we have to prepare like he’s going to be there because when he is, he’s a game-changer,” Stubbs said. “He’s a high-motor guy. He’s a very good player We have to be ready for him and we can’t look past him.”

Stubbs understands the situation he and his linemates are in. He understands the importance to the offense of running the football. He’s more than aware a 1.2 yards per carry average is unacceptable. And he’s keenly aware both Batkowski and Fimbres are more than capable of providing crucial and meaningful yards in the running game.

Stubbs is one of the four returning starter to the group up front. Senior Dan Sipps started all 10 games a year ago, as did junior Cody Botts and sophomore Ethan Newton. Only Estevez at right tackle is new to the starting group.

“It all starts with the guys up front to get it moving,” Stubbs said. “We have to give the talented guys in the backfield room to make plays and to set up second and third-and-short and make things manageable. It’s tough to throw when there are pass-rushers like we have in this conference who can just tee off on your.”

“If we can’t run the ball, then it’s going to be bad news,” Clark said. “I think if we do things right we can be much better than we played. I still think we’re a much better team than how we played Saturday.”