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Mitch Rupert on Lycoming football: Receivers showed they can be relied upon

There were few questions about personnel coming into the season for Lycoming. The Warriors returned eight starters on defense. Four of its five offensive linemen played last year. Elijah Shemory is back at QB, as is running back Keith Batkowski

But wide receiver was one of those question marks. The Warriors’ top four receivers from last year have all moved on. What was left was a group which caught just 21 passes a year ago.

For all the things which went wrong in last week’s season-opening loss to Susquehanna, the receiving corps proved they could be relied upon to move the football. Steve Toczylousky caught a 60-yard touchdown pass, three receivers caught a pass on a three-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, and they gave Shemory open targets to throw to.

“We have some great weapons outside and inside,” said receiver Dezmen Johsnon, who caught four passes for 57 yards and a touchdown. “We can do it. We just gotta get our mind straight. We can’t do things that are going to mess us up and hold us back.”

This group is different than the one Shemory threw to last year as a freshman. There’s no dominant No. 1 receiver like Nick Costello was. There’s no unreal gamebreaker like Brock Zollicoffer could be. That the group of Johnson, Toczylousky, Cristoff Minott and Tyjah During are is a group of solid receivers who all have speed and good hands to make the offense move.

Those four receivers a year ago combined for 21 catches, 358 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Saturday alone they combined for 11 receptions, 204 yards and two touchdowns. Toczylousky made a great adjustment with the ball in the air to finish off his 60-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. Johnson made a tremendous run after the catch, including running through a safety to score on a 15-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter. During’s leaping 37-yard reception in the fourth quarter helped set up Johnson’s touchdown.

It was the kind of performance which won’t raise any eyebrows, but is proof the offense is still in capable hands. Shemory spread his 16 receptions to eight receivers, but it was Toczylousky, During and Johnson who did the bulk of the damage.

“I thought Stephen was really good. Dezmen and Tyjah were good in spurts,” Lycoming coach Mike Clark said. “In my mind, at receiver there is no No. 1 and 1A, but (Saturday’s) game is going to help us define who plays and how we can get people into better spots.”

“I felt like we played OK, but we need to do better,” Johnson said. “The whole offense needs to be better. That’s on the running backs, the receivers, the quarterback and all of us as a whole. For us to be good, we all need to be better.”

Here’s a closer look at Lycoming’s 42-26 loss to Susquehanna on Saturday:

TIDE-TURNING PLAY: Lycoming had just scored the touchdown it so desperately needed. The Warriors traveled 75 yards in three throws from Shemory, the last of which was a fantastic catch-and-run from Johnson. Down nine points with 7:41 remaining, it was no time to chase a two-point conversion when a PAT would make it a one-score game. So the Warriors line up for the kick, but the snap rolled back to holder Markus Sidwell, who fired up a desperation heave toward the end zone which was intercepted. All of a sudden, all the momentum Lycoming gained with its quick-strike touchdown drive was gone and the Warriors never recovered.

BEST OFFENSIVE PLAY: Susquehanna’s defense was set up not to give anything on the speed sweeps Lycoming loves to run with its receivers. So midway through the second quarter, Clark lined up running back Chase Cramer wide left and brought him in motion as if he was going to take the handoff on the speed sweep. But Shemory pulled the ball, and that faked made the safeties hesitate long enough for Toczylousky to get behind the Susquehanna defense. He made the catch and finished the play with a 60-yard touchdown reception, the first TD of his career.

“They weren’t going to let us run the speed sweep, but we hit to big play-action passes off it,” Clark said. “At some point people are going to have to pick their poison with that.”

LOCAL ROUNDUP: Lycoming – Jersey Shore’s Elijah Shemory started his 12th consecutive game at quarterback and finished 16 for 32 for 231 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Shemory also rushed eight times for 22 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, his ninth career rushing TD. Montoursville’s Keith Batkowski worked off the bench at running back and carried six times for 27 yards, including an 18-yard jaunt. The senior also returned four kickoffs for 105 yards, including a 51-yarder on the game’s opening kick. Jersey Shore’s David Tomb made his collegiate debut on special teams with one tackle.

LYCOMING OFFENSIVE MVP: While the Warriors struggled to get much going in the run game, Shemory helped keep the offense moving. He just missed on a couple deep balls which could have drastically changed his final numbers, but completing 50% of his passes for better than 200 yards and two touchdowns was a quality start to the season, especially considering he didn’t turn the ball over. His 25-yard touchdown run helped showcase how he can help Lycoming with his legs, and he continues to maintain his poise under third-down pressure, converting three third-and-long scenarios to help set up Jamie Fisher’s first field goal.

LYCOMING DEFENSIVE MVP: Lycoming’s linebacker depth is being tested early in the season because of some injury issues, but the Warriors are happy to have Zach Kovach back healthy in the middle of that defense. Injuries have shortened his last two seasons, but Saturday he picked up six tackles from his middle linebacker spot, including five solo stops. He, Sam Pawlikowski and Jarrell Payne provide the Warriors three of the most athletic linebackers in the league.

UNSUNG HERO: After a brutal close to his 2018 season in which he had three kicks blocked against Franklin & Marshall, kicker Jamie Fisher opened the 2019 season with a bang. The senior kicked a pair of field goals, including his seventh career 40-yard boot. He also provided a great field position edge to the Warriors with four touchbacks on his five kickoffs. Fisher kicked field goals of 33 and 40 yards and was 2 for 2 on PAT attempts.

“It was a solid day,” Clark said. “He made a 40-yarder which he absolutely has the leg to do. He’s been really good. Early in camp we weren’t the most consistent PAT team. But when you snap the ball and he’s patient and goes when the ball moves, he’s pretty good.”

Mitch Rupert covers Lycoming football for the Sun-Gazette. He can be reached at 570-326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at mrupert@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Mitch_Rupert.

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