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Lycoming gains 515 yards in win

ANNVILLE — As Josh Shermeyer fell to his knees and cradled the football, the Lycoming sideline erupted. It didn’t matter whether they were an offensive or defensive player, they stormed the field to celebrate the sophomore defensive back’s interception.

The game was already well in hand. Lycoming’s offense needed just two kneeldowns to run out the clock on a 48-3 win over Lebanon Valley, but the energy and excitement the Warriors have been playing with the last three weeks exploded in that one moment.

A backup safety who isn’t one of the most talented players on the roster but is unquestionably a team-first guy, solidified the Warriors’ third consecutive win Saturday at Arnold Field with his falling interception. It was the third of the day for a Lycoming defense which failed to allow a touchdown for the first time in over a year. It was the perfect complement to an offense which scored at least 40 points and gained at least 500 yards in a game for the third consecutive week.

And all of a sudden, a Lycoming football team which was left for dead five weeks ago when it fell to 1-5 after a loss to Alvernia, can finish the season with a .500 record with a win in next week’s regular-season finale at Stevenson. It may not seem like much of an accomplishment for a program whose story is told with championships, but when it would have been easy to pack it up and look toward next season, the Warriors (4-5, 3-4 MAC) have responded with their best football of the season.

“We were in a slump. We were at the very bottom,” said receiver Tre Leach, who finished with a team-high 51 receiving yards. “I think the bye week really helped us just getting away from football. I think we’re taking the little things more seriously and we’re translating what we’re doing in practice to the games.”

Saturday marked the first time since 2011 the Warriors have scored 40 points in three consecutive games. It also marked the first time since the final game of the 2001 season and the first game of 2002 the offense has run for 300 yards in back-to-back games. Freshman tailback Joey Guida accounted for 118 of the Warriors’ 340 rushing yards, but Tyjah During ripped off a 60-yard touchdown run on the game’s fourth play, and Nick Breiner later added a 55-yard run to the 1-yard line which led to his first career touchdown.

It’s almost as if the Warriors returned from the bye with an entirely new offense. But this is just what coach Mike Clark’s offense can look like when operating at optimum efficiency. Lycoming has run for 952 yards in wins over FDU-Florham, Misericordia and Lebanon Valley in the last three weeks. During its 1-5 start, it ran for just 505 yards combined.

The offensive line of Cody Botts, Dan Jennings, Kyle Pierce, Brent Newton and Jacob Estevez has been working like human excavators, pushing defenses around as if they’re nothing more than a nuisance. It doesn’t matter who carries the ball, positive yards are likely coming.

“It’s tailback by committee, or it’s the quarterback or wideouts, it doesn’t matter right now,” Clark said. “The last two weeks off the speed sweep action (Elijah Shemory) has a 50-yard touchdown run, Tyjah had a 60-yard run today, then Chase (Cramer) scores on a screen off of it. I think we’ve done a good job of building things off that action.”

During has come up with a pair of lengthy touchdown plays during the course of this three-game winning streak. He took a rocket screen 79 yards for a score against FDU two weeks ago. Saturday he was in motion right to left on the Warriors’ first drive when Shemory handed to him on a read-option jet sweep. The line sealed the corner for the junior receiver, and Steve Toczylousky locked down the final defender in During’s path to the end zone.

Yesterday was the third consecutive week Lycoming has scored a touchdown on its first possession. It had scored just nine points on its first possession in its first six games combined.

“(During) is probably the fastest dude I’ve been around. If he hits the corner, he’s gone,” Leach said. “It makes the offense so dangerous when the offensive line can block for your running backs, quarterback or receivers. The defense never knows which angle it’s going to come from. It’s a whole team effort and it’s a big reason why the offense has run so much smoother.”

It didn’t hurt that the defense continually put the Lycoming offense in scoring position by forcing short, unproductive Lebanon Valley drives. Lycoming’s average starting field position in the first half yesterday was its own 42-yard line. Lebanon Valley’s was its own 21. And with the Flying Dutchmen gaining fewer than 4 yards per play in the first half, there was little ground Lycoming had to cover to find the end zone.

The Warriors’ defense earned a short field for the offense when Duane Boone dropped quarterback Kody Kegarise for a 7-yard loss on third down. Getting the ball at the Dutchmen 48, the Warriors turned to Guida to cover all 48 — 28 on the ground and 20 through the air on a phenomenal one-hand catch downfield. Guida’s 2-yard scoring run gave Lycoming a 14-0 lead.

After another three-and-out from the defense, Shemory found Cramer on a screen pass against pressure from the Lebanon Valley defense and Cramer utilized excellent downfield blocking for a 28-yard touchdown reception and a 21-0 lead.

The only reason Lycoming’s lead wasn’t bigger than 21-3 at halftime was because of a red zone fumble and an interception as it marched toward the end zone with under 2 minutes to go in the half. But with the suffocating nature of the Warriors’ defense, 18 points surely seemed like it would be enough.

Against Lebanon Valley’s unique sprint-draw offense which constantly moves the pocket on passing plays and utilizes cut blocks against defense linemen, the Lycoming front four continually pressure Kegarise into quick throws. From there, the secondary locked down receivers and the linebackers were free to chase ballcarriers. Of the Warriors’ top five tacklers yesterday, four were linebackers, including Sam Pawlikowski who had a team-high eight.

“It’s an old school offense and it’s a tough offense to go against,” said linebacker Sam Pittsman, who intercepted a pass in the third quarter. “Those guys played huge up front taking on blocks and, really, we were free all day and we just to run around and make plays.”

“As a team, mentally you have to be prepared for any little thing that can happen,” said safety Austin Rowley, who broke up three passes. “My teammates have been preparing week by week for any little change or any little piece of adversity, and I think we’ve been doing OK and playing better.”

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