Warriors lose the Stagg Hat Trophy

SELINSGROVE — With an extra point, Lycoming was going to be within one score of Susquehanna with more than 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Then the snap rolled back to holder Markus Sidwell and kicker Jamie Fisher never got to swing his right leg at a chance for that critical PAT. That’s pretty much how Lycoming’s season-opener went Saturday at Amos Alonzo Stagg Field.

For every positive step forward from the Warriors, there was one or two steps back. They missed opportunities, struggled at times with the most basic parts of the game, and again gave up too many big plays defensively in a 42-26 loss to Susquehanna.

Lycoming lost its season-opener for the sixth time in the last eight seasons. And it lost to Susquehanna for the fourth time in six meetings since the Stagg Hat Trophy Game was reintroduced in 2014.

“We were better at times,” Lycoming coach Mike Clark said. “But that’s just a consolation statement to try and make yourself feel better, and it’s not acceptable.”

Saturday was seemingly a continuation of the issues which plagued the Warriors in a 5-6 season a year ago. Even though the offense didn’t turn over the ball, it made enough mistakes which made its sledding much more difficult. The defense once again struggled with allowing big plays, giving up seven plays of 30 yards or more.

It was the kind of performance in which Clark and his team saw some of its potential realized. Quarterback Elijah Shemory led a three-play, 75-yard scoring drive in the third quarter in which he completed three consecutive passes, including a 15-yard scoring strike to Dezmen Johnson. But then trailing by nine points, the poor PAT snap kept it a two-score game.

It was a frustrating start to a season which holds so much potential for a program looking to break a four-year losing streak. The frustration was evident in Clark’s voice because a majority of the issues were ones he and the coaching staff has harped on throughout the spring and preseason. Taking care of the little mistakes was priority No. 1.

But poor shotgun snaps early in the game put the Warriors’ offense behind schedule. Pre-snap penalties put the offense in deeper trouble. An average of just 2.4 yards per carry on first down left the offense reaching for bigger plays on second and third down.

“It’s very frustrating,” Johnson said. “Our biggest problem is we have to be consistent and have no foolish penalties. We had way too many false starts and things that held us back from being consistent.”

The reality is Saturday’s loss doesn’t have any effect on the Warriors’ ultimate goal of winning a Middle Atlantic Conference championship and earning its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2008. But the aesthetics of another double-digit loss on opening day aren’t pleasing.

Of the seven plays of 30 yards or more allowed by a Lycoming defense returning eight starters, four led directly to touchdowns, one set up a touchdown, one set up a field goal, and the last was the final play of the second half.

But the 327 yards allowed on those seven plays accounted for 60.4% of the 541 yards of offense gained by the River Hawks. Sam Darrell’s 54-yard reception on a blown coverage in the first quarter led to Xavier Briggs-DeVore’s 3-yard touchdown run.

Kyle Good caught a 39-yard pass which led to Elijah Hoffman’s 30-yard field goal in the second quarter. Da’Avian Ellington made one cut before bursting to a 63-yard touchdown run. Mitch Carsley made one cut after catching a hitch pass which turned into a 43-yard touchdown.

Tight end Anthony McCoy added a 30-yard touchdown reception on a fourth-down play where he was left uncovered. And Ellington added another scoring run, 61-yard jaunt in the fourth quarter.

Those seven pop plays for Susquehanna averaged 46.7 yards per snap. The other 60 snaps by the River Hawks averaged just 3.6 yards.

“When they had to drive it out, we stopped them,” said Lycoming linebacker Zach Kovach, who recorded six tackles. “But the big plays and the miscommunications are something we need to fix right now. We have to make sure everyone is listening when we make the calls. We had a couple times where people who weren’t supposed to making calls were making calls. The people who are supposed to make the calls need to make the calls and people need to open their ears and pay attention.”

“They’re good enough, we don’t need to help them,” Clark said. “To come here and be in the game in the fourth quarter is great. We wanted to win and we had a chance. But we made too many mistakes to help them beat us. You can’t do that against good people.”

Lycoming kept itself in the game largely until that fourth-quarter botched PAT kick. Largely it was because of a handful of big plays, like a 60-yard touchdown pass from Shemory to Steve Toczylousky in the second quarter to give the Warriors a 10-9 lead. It was Toczylousky’s first career touchdown reception.

Shemory extended that lead later in the second quarter when running back Joey Guida and guard Brent Newton sealed a seam in the line allowing Shemory to break a 25-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-1 play.

But Lycoming was outscored 33-9 following Shemory’s touchdown run. The Lycoming offense just wasn’t consistent enough over the second half to overcome the big plays the defense allowed. The Warriors averaged just 2.7 yards on its 30 carries, and they completed just 1 of 6 passes and scored three points in a third quarter where its three significant drives started on average at its own 43-yard line.

“You have to be consistent. And the biggest frustration is when we know we can do it because we’ve seen them do it and then we do something incredibly foolish,” Clark said. “You need to possess the discipline to perform consistently. (Susquehanna) is good. They’re going to make you make mistakes. But the ones that we contribute are why we lose games and don’t give yourself a chance to win games.”