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Mitch Rupert on Lycoming football: Lycoming has become more disciplined in recent weeks

Out of the pocket of his Lycoming football hoodie, coach Mike Clark pulled out a laminated sheet of paper. It contained the script for the Warriors’ pre-game warm-up, but also scribbled in the bottom right-hand corner was a listing of three words.

1. Discipline.

2. Physical.

3. Together.

Those were the three words the players came up with when strength and conditioning coach Joe Alexander asked them in the preseason to find three words they wanted to describe the team at season’s end. During the course of its 1-5 start the Warriors were falling shy of those goals.

In a loss to Alvernia prior to its much-needed bye, the loss of the first word, discipline, became apparent. Lycoming committed six personal foul penalties among the 13 it was flagged for that day. The continual mistakes which led to four consecutive losses fell in to the role of discipline as well.

During the bye week, the coaching staff reminded the team of those three words. They worked time into practice for a conditioning drill which isn’t particularly difficult or taxing, but requires discipline as a team to complete in a timely manner.

In the last three weeks as the Warriors have gone to 4-5 and now have an opportunity to finish the regular season at .500. It’s largely been because of a return to those core principles the players established prior to the season as being most important to them. The discipline has brought about a togetherness seen on nearly every snap. And the physicality? Well, that’s been as good as it has been all year.

“Discipline is about a mindset,” linebacker Sam Pittsman said. “The Alvernia game was a tough game for us to lose, but coach Clark pulled us all together and that word has been huge for us these last three weeks.”

It doesn’t seem to make sense that a team could just flip a switch and go from one of the most undisciplined performances and disappointing losses in Clark’s tenure to everything being hunky-dory. But that’s pretty much how it’s happened.

As Clark said, it wasn’t so much flipping a switch as maybe the switch wasn’t wired properly. And the week off between Alvernia and a win over FDU-Florham allowed them to re-wire it. There hasn’t been a magical answer of why everything has turned around, but focusing on getting back to the roots of the three words the team laid out as its goal prior to the season is as good a place to start as any.

As of Wednesday night, Middle Atlantic Conference officials still had not outlined the tie-breaking procedures to decide the final spots for the Centennial-MAC Bowl Series, but the belief is the Warriors still have an outside shot of being the third representative from the MAC. It would only be feasible with a win Saturday against Stevenson, which has already secured the league’s first spot in the series. And then a series of other dominoes would have to fall to make it a reality.

But understand, should it happen, it will be because Lycoming found its footing in the three words written on Clark’s pre-game script.

“When you’re as low as we were a few weeks ago, you can’t take anything for granted,” receiver Tre Leach said. “So we’re going to keep doing things the same way we’ve been doing them.”

Here’s a closer look at Lycoming’s 48-3 win over Lebanon Valley on Saturday:

TIDE-TURNING PLAY: It’s hard to imagine a play coming as early in the game as Tyjah During’s 60-yard touchdown run did having as big an impact with 58 minutes left to play. But his jet sweep on the Warriors’ fourth snap of the game set a tone. After more than 1,100 yards and 90 points in the previous two weeks, hitting the ground running against Lebanon Valley put into motion another big offensive day. The Warriors went to the jet sweep motion which has helped transform the offense in recent weeks. Quarterback Elijah Shemory read the play and handed to During who turned the corner because of a good seal from the offensive line and receiver Steve Toczylousky blocked the one defender who could get in During’s way. Sixty yards later During had the longest run of his career and his first rushing touchdown.

“We’re finally starting strong from the beginning of the game,” Leach said. “It makes things so much easier than trying to play catch-up. “

BEST DEFENSIVE STAND: There weren’t many stands the Lycoming defense needed to make Saturday. But its biggest test is one it passed to maintain its three-score lead heading into a halftime. After intercepting Shemory with a minute to play in the half, Lebanon Valley put together its best drive. Flying Dutchmen quarterback Kody Kegarise, who was largely held in check all game, completed four of five passes for 44 yards to get to the Warriors’ 20-yard line. But when it looked like Kegarise had a touchdown pass to the front corner of the end zone, safety Austin Rowley chased down the ball and knocked it away. Two plays later Rowley closed on a receiver and again knocked the ball away on the goal line and Lebanon Valley had to settle for a 29-yard field goal.

“I thought I was beat on that first one,” Rowley said. “But I sold out on it. I tried my best to make a play for my teammates.”

BEST OFFENSIVE PLAY: In recent weeks Lycoming has taken at least one chance a game throwing to receivers out of the backfield down the middle of the field. Against FDU-Florham it led to an incredible diving touchdown catch by Keith Batkowski. Clark dialed up the look again Saturday with the Warriors leading 7-0. Shemory delivered a perfect pass over top the linebacker and underneath the safeties on which tailback Joey Guida made a ridiculous falling, one-handed catch. The catch came after Guida had carried five consecutive times for a total of 24 yards to get to the Lebanon Valley 24-yard line. And the catch came one play before Guida carried three consecutive times to punch in the touchdown and push Lycoming’s lead to two scores. The freshman running back accounted for all 48 yards on the drive and finished with 138 yards of offense before hurting his ankle in the third quarter.

TELLING STAT: Lycoming’s defense allowed just nine first downs to Lebanon Valley. It’s the first time in over a year the Warriors have allowed fewer than 10 first downs, and the ninth time in Mike Clark’s 12-year tenure they’ve allowed fewer than 10. Lycoming is 9-0 in those games. Lycoming has allowed an average of just 13.67 first downs over its three-game winning streak, as opposed to the 22.3 first downs it allowed during its first games.

LOCAL ROUNDUP: Lycoming – Jersey Shore’s Elijah Shemory completed 11 of 15 passes for 162 yards, one touchdown and one interception. A week after running for more than 100 yards, Shemory carried eight times for 24 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Montoursville graduate Keith Batkowski carried 14 times for 51 yards and a touchdown and also caught three passes for 14 yards. Jersey Shore defensive tackle David Tomb recorded four tackles with three solo stops. Offensive lineman Owen Covert played.

Lebanon Valley – Montgomery graduate Rhyle Strausbaugh played at linebacker for the Flying Dutchmen but did not record any stats.

LYCOMING OFFENSIVE MVP: It’s hard to look at the job the Lycoming offense has done in recent weeks and not boil it down to the job of the hogmollies up front. For the second week in a row the Warriors ran for more than 300 yards as a team. For the second week in a row the Warriors carried the ball 50 times. For the 30th time in Mike Clark’s tenure the Warriors ran for 200 yards in a game, improving to 27-3 when they do so. Starters Cody Botts, Dan Jennings, Kyle Pierce, Brent Newton and Jacob Estevez have forged a bond in recent weeks which has seen Lycoming’s offense line reach heights it hasn’t seen in some time. And just as importantly, all but Botts return next year.

LYCOMING DEFENSIVE MVP: Austin Rowley was full of potential when he committed to Lycoming following his senior season at Perkiomen Valley. But he has quickly realized that potential and made two of the defense’s most important plays on the second-quarter red-zone stand. The true freshman plays with physicality, hustle and determination. Even when he was called for a clear pass interference in the third quarter hitting a receiver too early as he broke forward on a pass, those are the kinds of plays you take with a grain of salt because it’s the effort and determination to make a play which are going to lead to big plays down the road.

UNSUNG HERO: In the grand scheme of a 45-point win, Chase Snavely finding a way to get perfect holds down on bad extra-point snaps don’t necessarily mean much. But in a more macro look of the season, the Warriors’ kicking operation is so finely tuned that tenths of a second matter. And with Clark’s willingness to use the weapon which is Jamie Fisher’s right leg, that unit needs to operate with optimum efficiency. So to see Lycoming’s backup quarterback find a way to get the football off the ground and upright for Fisher to connect on both kicks is important going forward for the confidence of the kicking game.

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

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