Running the ball is important for Warriors

Mike Clark stood behind his Lycoming offense during the run-game portion of Wednesday’s practice as his players got into formation.

“I’d really like to see 40 more rushes this week,” the Warriors’ coach said as the offense came set. “But I’d take 55, too.”

He’s not picky, he just understands what it takes for the Warriors’ offense to function at the optimum efficiency it has the last two weeks. And for it to continue this week against Lebanon Valley, those kinds of rushing numbers are what the Warriors need to hit.

Two weeks ago, Lycoming ran 52 times for 270 yards (5.2 yards per carry) in a blowout win over FDU-Florham. Last week, beating a then 4-2 Misericordia team, the Warriors rushed 55 times for 342 yards (6.2 yards per carry). It was the first time since 2011 Lycoming has rushed the ball at least 50 times in back-to-back games.

“If we can run it 55 times, I feel pretty good about winning,” Clark said. “It’s not that we don’t want to throw it because we still did 20-plus times last week. But the passes are a heck of a lot better when you can impose your plan on the ground.”

It’s not necessarily about the number of carries, though. The number is really an arbitrary number. But it’s what that mass amount of carries can mean to the offense.

Success running the ball to the tune of 4 or 5 yards or more per carry is what Clark is looking for. To have 40 carries at 5 yards a pop means 200 rushing yards for the Warriors. And in his 12-year tenure, Clark’s teams are 26-3 when rushing for 200 or more yards in a game. When they fail to rush for 200 yards, the Warriors are 41-50.

Looking at this year’s schedule tells the entire story about how important running the ball is to Lycoming. It had 30 carries for 81 yards in a loss to Susquehanna. There were 22 carries for 56 yards against Wilkes, 19 for 17 yards against King’s, 28 for 39 yards against Delaware Valley and 28 for 152 against Alvernia. They were all losses.

In the Warriors’ three wins it ran 42 times for 160 yards and three touchdowns against Widener, 52 times for 270 yards and two touchdowns against FDU, and 55 times for 342 yards and five touchdowns against Misericordia. It’s not a coincidence success in the running game has led to wins. Clark’s pro-style offense, even as it has grown from an I-formation base in the early years to a more spread base, is entirely set up by running the football.

An offensive line which has found some consistency in the last two weeks has been a wrecking ball coming out of the bye. Center Kyle Piece and left guard Dan Jennings both started the season on the defensive line but have really settled into their roles recently helping pave the way for big rushing numbers.

“I think our confidence is through the roof right now,” said Jennings, a freshman from Allentown. “Misericordia was a great team and we really just kicked them in the mouth. So our confidence is really high right now. Going into Leb Val we have to keep the boat going and keep doing what we’re doing. We have to stay humble, don’t get ahead of ourselves and we’ll be fine.”

“I think the confidence has come from the belief that we were fed up during the bye week and we decided to get a little better,” Clark said. “We tweaked some things and decided to run the ball more and decided to hand the ball to the wide receivers some more. We’re executing better, we’re coaching better, and some confidence grows because of that.”

The loss to Alvernia nearly a month ago changed the course of the season for Lycoming. It was a game it felt it should win going in against a second-year program, but a last-minute touchdown drive gave the Golden Hawks their first Middle Atlantic Conference win in program history.

It was the Warriors’ fourth consecutive loss and left them at 1-5 entering the bye week. A re-focused energy and renewed spirit have helped Lycoming come out of the gates from the bye strong. Gone is the undisciplined play which did so much to derail that game against Alvernia. A better cohesion among the entire team seems to be shining through as they play together and for one another.

And, of course, there are the strategic adjustments, the willingness to run quarterback Elijah Shemory more than they have in the past. All of that, in turn, has led to the most efficient production of the season for the Lycoming offense. And all of a sudden an offense which was ranked in the 200s of the 245 Division III teams in the country has accounted for nearly 1,200 yards and more than 90 points in the last two weeks.

“Early on I feel like we had a couple tough games and we weren’t as close as we needed to be,” Jennings said. “We weren’t together then. But ever since the bye, we’ve really come together and it’s really helped us. Our chemistry is perfect right now.”

“We’re pleased about what we’ve gotten to, but we’re not satisfied,” Clark said. “We still think there’s some chances to win some more games.”