There was an emptiness when Lycoming had its season officially ended last Sunday evening by the NCAA tournament selection committee. There was no closure to the season, it seemed.
When the Warriors closed out a 38-0 win over Misericordia in their final game of the season, the future of the season was hanging in the air somewhere with no direction whatsoever. Head coach Mike Clark had even skipped his usual end-of-season address to his offensive linemen before the game because he wasn't sure it was going to be the Warriors' last game.
The ending to this 8-2 season was vastly different than the ending to Lycoming's 8-2 season in 2011. Last year when the Warriors lost a key MAC game to Delaware Valley in Week 9, Lycoming's postseason future was decided. So when its Week 10 game rolled around with FDU-Florham, it was closure to a season that was successful, yet disappointing.
Michael Czap/For the Sun-Gazette
Lycoming running back Parker Showers (1) breaks out of the pack against Misericordia earlier this year. Parker helped lead the Warriors to an 8-2 finish this year.
There was none of that this season. The season ended with the team together watching the selection show on NCAA.com where the Warriors were not one of the seven teams around the country to receive an at-large bid.
So now the question that must be explored is why was Lycoming left out of the NCAA playoffs? The easy answer is the Warriors failed to win their biggest game of the season at home against Widener. As much as the season-opening loss to Brockport State hurt, it wasn't the defining moment to Lycoming's season.
In fact, it was a moment the Warriors had nine weeks to overcome. It was going to be a long, methodical process if Lycoming wanted to erase the sting of the opening-week loss and become an NCAA playoff team. Clark got the team believing in a not-so-cliche one-game-at-a-time mentality.
The approach was simple, and on the surface cliche, but it worked. He asked his team to do what was necessary to go 1-0 every Saturday through the heart of a difficult MAC schedule. Lycoming did just that with an impressive win at nationally-ranked Delaware Valley, and equally impressive victories over Lebanon Valley and Albright.
It was a mentality which got Lycoming in to its homecoming game against an unbeaten Widener team still in a position to control its own destiny. And when it came down to the deciding call of the football game, a fourth-quarter third-down play for the Warriors' offense, head coach Mike Clark kept the destiny of the team in its own hands, calling for a pass to pick up the first down and essentially end the game with Lycoming leading.
The call didn't work out as everyone wearing a blue jersey that day had hoped. Lycoming's hopes of coming back to the locker room every Saturday with a 1-0 record fell one game short of perfection. It was that one blemish which kept the Warriors out of the postseason. The loss to a Brockport State team to start the year could have been forgiven with nine wins in the MAC to earn the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.
Instead, a little more than a week ago the Warriors were left with an empty feeling. Back-to-back 8-2 seasons were nice - the Warriors haven't won 16 games in a two-year stretch since 1999-2000 - but it wasn't what they had worked for and wanted. That's part of the emptiness of the end of Lycoming's season. This team was better than a 10-game season. This is a team capable of winning national playoff games.
But it's not that the season was a waste. The coaching staff learned plenty about a team which has many key pieces returning, and many key pieces departing.
Here's a closer look at the Warriors' season:
WHAT WENT RIGHT
The emergence of Nate Oropollo
The Lycoming coaching staff never expected anybody to fill the shoes of Anthony Marascio. Expecting such a season would just be unfair. Nate Oropollo may have come as close as anybody could have to filling the shoes of Marascio, who was an Associated Press Little All-American in 2011. All Oropollo did was lead the MAC in sacks and was second in tackles for loss. The defensive end constantly played on the other side of the line of scrimmage, forcing hurried throws, knocking blockers into ball carriers and generally creating havoc -- all the things Marascio did. The senior earned his first all-MAC honors this season, and maybe no Warrior was more deserving.
Defensive coordinator Steve Wiser knew he had a strong core of safeties when the season began. Ryan Fenningham was in his fourth year as a starter (second at safety) for Lycoming, and Cody Butler had transferred in from FCS Holy Cross and replaced former All-American Ray Bierbach at the other safety. Little did Wiser know that by Week 2, neither would be a factor for weeks. First it was illness and then an injury which forced Butler to the sidelines. Then it was a knee injury that forced Fenningham to miss all but one half of the final eight weeks of the season. In their place, the Warriors got inspired play from sophomore Tanner Troutman and senior Caleb Shertzer. Troutman was a ball hawk, tying for the league lead in interceptions. He also played potentially his best game of the year in a road win over Delaware Valley when Butler was ravaged by illness and played just a handful of snaps. Shertzer wasn't the pure athlete Fenningham or Butler was, but he was intelligent on the field. He completed his responsibilities on each and every play, and surely wasn't afraid to hit hard. The senior had spent much of his career without a true position, but he found his niche in his final year. A position that was believed to be a strength at the beginning of the year, proved to be true, even without its original starters in the lineup.
proves his worth
Mike Clark always had excitement in his voice when speaking of Tyler Jenny during the 2011 season and during preseason camp this year. He know he had a talented backup quarterback who would be able to win games in the future. He just didn't expect the future to be in Week 1. Two-year starting quarterback Zach Klinger suffered a concussion and then was held out of games for disciplinary reasons, thrusting Jenny into a starting role from the first game of the season against Brockport State. The sophomore from Glendale High School was never rattled. He was poised, took control of the huddle, had the trust of his teammates, and guided the offense to an eight-win season. He showed an ability to throw the football with precision to all levels of the field, completing 60 percent of his passes this season. He showed a penchant for protecting the football, throwing just four interceptions in 248 attempts. He had the fewest percentage of his passes intercepted (1.6 percent) of any quarterback in the league which attempted at least 100 passes. Delaware Valley's Aaron Wilmer was second with 2.4 percent of his passes intercepted. It's clear the Warriors have found their quarterback for the next two seasons. And its clear the Warriors have a quarterback which can win games.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Lycoming County chapter
It's tough to imagine a year where the Warriors not only had as many players banged up as the Warriors did this year, but missing games as well. By the time Week 10 rolled around against Misericordia, the Warriors played without a starting cornerback, a starting safety, two starting linebackers and their starting right guard. And just as many players, if not more, were likely playing at less than 100 percent. What this gave the coaching an opportunity to do was evaluate younger talent and work more guys into the lineup. It's how they developed depth on top of the depth they already had. It's how they began preparing players to step into starting role or key reserve roles for next year. The Warriors have established a next-man-up mentality and that the expectations are for the position, not the player. So no matter who steps into what position, the responsibilities and the expectations do not change. It's how programs like Lycoming's are built.
Brockport State overwhelms the Warriors
The dangers of Brockport State in Week 1 were evident before the game ever started. The team was coming off a 3-7 season, but had averaged nearly 30 points and more than 400 yards of offense per game. But what Lycoming got in Week 1 was nothing like what it expected. A bigger, stronger offensive line for Brockport controlled the line of scrimmage and negated the Warriors' quickness up front. The Brockport defense negated the Lycoming running game, forcing Jenny to throw the ball 42 times in his first career start. The 24-2 loss put the Warriors in desperation mode for the rest of the season, understanding another loss would likely take away the chances of an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament, and may ruin chances for a MAC title. Ultimately, both became true with the loss to Widener.
Tyler Jenny, QB
Jenny stepped into a starting role much sooner than he expected to, but once he got the opportunity, he grabbed hold of it and never let go. He forced the coaching staff's hand into making him the permanent starting quarterback once Klinger returned from both an injury and a suspension. He surely didn't disappoint. He had his best game of the year against Wilkes, throwing for a career-high 239 yards and four touchdowns. He threw 11 of his 17 touchdown passes to Campman, and provided a much-needed complement to the Warriors run game. To have expected more out of Jenny than what he gave would have been an unreasonable request.
Kabongo Bukasa, MLB
The word special is used a lot around Bukasa. It's the only superlative that seems to fit the linebacker who was named the MAC's Defensive Player of the Year, the second consecutive Warrior to earn the honor, joining Marascio in 2011. Bukasa finished the season in the top 7 in the MAC in tackles, interceptions, passes defended and forced fumbles. His speed and athleticism are unmatched defensively across the conference. He hits like a Mack Truck, he runs like a gazelle and his football instincts have gotten exponentially better since coming to Lycoming. Special seems about the only way to describe a player like that.
SPECIAL TEAMS MVP
Zack Czap, kicker/punter
Czap is a three-time all-MAC honoree as a punter. But his value isn't measure in the numbers. His 35.1 yards per punt were third-best in the league, but he works hand in hand with the defense making field position a nightmare for opposing teams. Eighteen of Czap's 44 kicks were down inside the 20-yard line. He knows how to kick the football in a way that it will check up like a sand wedge into the green from under 100 yards. He forced opponents to have to work out of the shadow of its own goalpost against a Lycoming defense that never allowed more than an average of 3.5 yards per rush in any game, and did not allow a pass of 50 yards or more all season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
FOR IN 2013
Ryan Umpleby, wide receiver
The freshman from Maryland played a pivotal role in developing depth in the Lycoming receiving corps. He's got tremendous hands, is a good route-runner, and will likely step into Jarrin Campman's role as a punt returner next year. He could eventually be the explosive receiver the Warriors will need to replace Campman.
Jimmy Nottingham, DT
The sophomore saw extensive playing time in the last half of the season giving breaks to both Roger Jayne and Dwight Hentz. He's strong and athletic and fits into the Warriors' needs of playing on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Nottingham only began to scratch the surface of his ability this year.
Matt Patterson, OL
The Danville graduate was a regular part of Lycoming's offensive line rotation on the right side of the line. The freshman received rave reviews during the preseason from head coach Mike Clark and could be a part of the Warriors' starting offensive line next year that could be comprised of sophomores and juniors.
Cam Kriner, WR
Kriner, a Montgomery graduate, is one of the biggest targets on the Warriors' roster. At 6-foot-4, he's lanky, but has great hands, which he showed against Misericordia with a brilliant sideline catch. Kriner has quickness and big-play potential. After seeing extensive action this year and with the graduation of Campman, Kriner could be a bigger part of the offense next year.
Sept. 7 -- at Brockport State
Sept. 14 -- vs. Wilkes
Sept. 15 -- vs. Misericordia
Sept. 22 -- at Widener
Sept. 29 --vs. Delaware Valley
Oct. 6 -- at Lebanon Valley
Oct. 13 -- BYE
Oct. 20 --vs. Albright
Oct. 27 -- at King's
Nov. 3 -- vs. FDU-Florham
No. 10 -- at Stevenson
Mitch Rupert covers Lycoming College football for the Sun-Gazette. He can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Mitch_Rupert.