By Keith McMillan
CHESTER, Pa. – Football can provide the backdrop for some of the strangest things a sports fan will ever see.
That was without a doubt the case at Quick Stadium on Saturday as fumbles, blocks and bounces helped Lycoming and Widener score in every way imaginable. But in the end, it was the drama that made the day memorable, much like it did at two other region tussles.
The Pioneers’ 50-49 double-overtime victory became an instant classic, likely to go down in MAC lore as one of the wildest ever. Similar reports came from southwest Virginia, where Emory & Henry scored a 37-35 knockdown of ODAC foe Bridgewater while nearby Ferrum edged ACFC rival Greensboro 17-14 in overtime.
Five minutes into the MAC clash, Widener wideout Jim Jones fielded the Warriors’ second punt, found a crease to his right, and darted 88 yards for the first of several Pioneer scores.
Kicker Paul Ragan, a freshman from Philadelphia, had his first PAT attempt blocked by Matt Henrich. Fellow defensive back John Scanlan scooped the ball and raced down the home sideline for a rare defensive two-point conversion.
The game, however, had the look of a defensive struggle, as the teams traded punts for the remainder of the opening period. But Widener’s 6-2 lead after one period should have tipped some off that this was going to be an odd one.
Lycoming came into the contest with 10 consecutive victories against the Pioneers, having last lost to Widener 17-5 in 1988. They also entered without giving up more than 15 points in a game in their last 20 contests. So when the Warriors embarked on an 11-play, five and a half-minute scoring drive to go ahead 8-6, it seemed the stars had returned to their rightful place in the sky and Lycoming could go about extending its MAC winning streak to 40 games.
Instead, Widener’s junior receiver tandem (Jones and Michael Coleman) dominated the Lycoming secondary, combining for six more touchdowns, four before overtime.
The most peculiar and dramatic sequence began with 13:30 left in the game, when the Quick Stadium scoreboard went blank. Play resumed after a five-minute delay with the clock off and a school employee following the on-field timekeeper and relaying reports to the press box announcer.
Widener’s 36-23 lead with 6:29 to play seemed solid until the Warriors began to evoke images of 1998, when they erased an 11-point deficit in the final three minutes to beat the Pioneers 15-13.
"Two years ago on this field, our program went into a funk," said fourth-year Pioneer coach Bill Zwaan, recalling how his kids lost confidence in the system and themselves after losing to Lycoming. "Today, we got a monkey off our backs. We’ve been through it before, and we said we ain’t quitting this time."
The Warriors charged back on the arm of junior Joe Feerar. He was 5-for-8 for 92 yards and two TDs on two Lycoming drives that tied the game at 36.
Widener blocked the point-after following the second score, keeping the game tied with 2:48 remaining.
“You know what, I’m just glad I have the kind of teammates I do. If I threw that interception on another team, they’d be on the sideline giving me dirty looks. These guys just patted me on the back.”
— Widener’s Mike Granato on throwing an interception in a tie game with 2:42 left
With a light rain falling and the clock still not working, Widener took over, but Jeff Tinney intercepted Mike Granato on the first play, setting Lycoming up 34 yards from victory.
The Pioneer defense held, forcing an apparent 41-yard field goal attempt. Lycoming ran a fake, but a pass intended for Jon Neve fell short. Widener kneeled its way into overtime.
The two teams traded scores in the first overtime. Lycoming’s was aided by a pass interference call on third-and-4 that drew a chorus of boos from the home crowd.
The Warriors scored first in the second overtime, but John Shaffer’s PAT hit the left upright.
Trailing 49-43, Granato connected with Coleman for 17 yards on the first play. Jim Jones scored his fourth TD of the day on an 8-yard reverse to knot the teams at 49.
Following a timeout, Ragan calmly kicked his second game-winning extra point in as many games and disappeared into a sea of Columbia blue jerseys.
"With everything that’s been going on," said Zwaan, "it couldn’t be more fitting than to have a freshman kicker win it."
“I think you know Lycoming has been such a great program. They’ve dominated our conference for so many years. This is a huge win because we’ve been here before, but we haven’t been able to get it done. This is a big win. We were finally able to pull one out.”
— Widener coach Bill Zwaan
Combined, the teams converted after only nine of 14 touchdowns and on two of four field goal attempts.
"[This win] means everything," said Coleman, who caught five passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns. "After last year’s season and everybody doubting us, we’re showing them. Widener football is back."
"It seems like every time we play Lycoming, there are those highs and lows," said Granato, a senior who started the ’98 game. "They’re never out of it till you see those three zeros on the clock."
Saturday, there was nothing on the clock, and the Warriors still weren’t out of it.
Scoring Spree: Six players had a hand in two or more touchdowns in the Lycoming-Widener shootout. Four of players were a part of at least four each.
Feerar threw five touchdown passes for the ground-based Warriors and Granato threw four for Widener. Coleman caught three and threw for one while Jones caught two, returned a punt for another and ran for the final score.
Lycoming running back Tim Deasey rushed for two scored and caught one while two of Joe Hanna’s game-high seven receptions were for touchdowns.
Strange things: Fourth-quarter and overtime occurrences weren’t the only odd goings-on at Quick Stadium on Saturday. The most memorable play:
On first-and-10 from midfield late in the second quarter, Coleman fumbled the second handoff in a double reverse, and watched the ball bounce backwards about 10 yards. Coleman picked it up, continued to his right and lofted a spiral to Jones, literally standing alone near the 20-yard line with no Warrior within 15 yards. Jones hauled in the 47-yard touchdown pass, stunning the crowd of 3,500. The play put the Pioneers up 19-15 and made a statement: The Pioneers were going to battle to the final whistle.
Shortly thereafter, Widener needed only three passes and 36 seconds to give itself a 26-15 edge 41 seconds from the half.
"I’ve never been a part of a game like this in my life," said Granato, "and you know what? I don’t think I’ll ever be a part of a game like this again."
Emory & Henry (2-0) made it 19 in a row against Bridgewater when sophomore quarterback Shannon Johnson hit receiver Nathan Tuck with a 22-yard scoring strike with five seconds left, giving the Wasps the two-point win.
The No. 25 Eagles (2-1) had taken a 35-31 lead on a Davon Cruz TD run with 1:31 left.
For Tuck, a senior, the score capped a career day during which he caught 11 passes for a school-record 253 yards and three touchdowns.
Tuck made his final grab in the midst of three Bridgewater defenders.
"We earned our fate," Eagle coach Michael Clark told the Harrisonburg Daily News Record. "We had a very real chance to win that football game. It was a clutch situation where we had three guys who didn’t make a play, and they had one guy who did."
At Ferrum, a chance to extend a late 14-7 lead went terribly wrong, and almost sent the Panthers to a second consecutive loss against Greensboro.
The Pride’s Thomas Sykes returned a blocked field goal 88 yards for the tying touchdown with 59 seconds left, forcing overtime.
The Panther defense went first and held Greensboro scoreless, allowing the field goal team to redeem itself. It did when Joe Cavaleri’s 34-yard field goal gave Ferrum the 17-14 victory.
Delaware Valley almost upset last year’s New Jersey Athletic Conference champion before falling to Montclair State (also an NCAA quarterfinalist) 14-13 in overtime.
The MAC’s Aggies scored a defensive touchdown with just more than six minutes left to knot the game at seven in regulation. In the second overtime, following a Red Hawk touchdown, quarterback Duke Greco went 1 yard for the score, but Taras Glenn broke up his two-point conversion pass.
The win would have been huge for a Delaware Valley program that has averaged less than three wins per season over the past five. In fact, wire services initially reported the score as an Aggie win.
Mount Ida phoned Wesley head coach Mike Drass midweek and said they weren’t going to make the trip to Dover for the Wolverines’ home opener, leaving them with just three home games this season. According to Drass, the Newton, Mass., school said it sustained so many injuries in a season-opening 47-0 loss against Western Connecticut that they would not be able to field a team against Wesley. Mount Ida was 3-4 in its inaugural season in 1999. Saturday was Wesley's Family Day.
Worse for the Wolverines is the fact that the NCAA counts the game as a cancellation, not a forfeit. A game cancelled before it is played is considered no contest and not applied to either team's record.
The rule also applied when Alfred president Edward G. Coll, Jr., cancelled the Saxons’ 1998 opener against Susquehanna because of alcohol-related hazing by football players.
Some surprise teams sit at or near the top of their respective conferences three weeks into the year.
Methodist’s Monarchs, 17-14 winners against Salisbury State, aren’t just 3-0, but are also 2-0 in the ACFC. Frostburg, a perennial power, is winless.
Washington & Lee is off to a good start, 2-0 overall and 1-0 in the ODAC after crushing Guilford 31-6. But the Generals face back-to-back tests against Randolph-Macon and Catholic Sept. 30 and Oct. 7.
Moravian is another pleasant surprise, out of the gate at 2-0, including a MAC Commonwealth win against Albright. Lebanon Valley’s 19-7 win over Juniata, now 0-2, was also an eye-opener.
Week Four games to watch
Western Maryland (2-1) at Ursinus (2-0)
This could be the battle for Centennial supremacy, though Muhlenberg may have a say in the matter. The Bears will have to get serious after two opening blowouts. The Green Terror’s 36-15 win was the only blemish on Ursinus’ regular-season slate last year. But if anyone is going to break Western Maryland’s 22-game conference string, the Bears are the team to do it.
Catholic (1-1) at Randolph-Macon (1-2)
This matchup, the conference opener for both, is usually a thriller. This year it’s also a must-win for the Yellow Jackets, down after a crushing defeat at Washington & Jefferson. For the Jackets to believe they can contend, they need a victory. The Cardinals’ first two games haven’t been with teams on their level. This should be an indicator of what kind of team they’ll be in 2000.
Lycoming (1-1) at King’s (1-1)
Both need to bounce back after key MAC losses, the Warriors to Widener and the Monarchs to Susquehanna.
Both teams would like to run the ball as much as possible, but first-year starter Joe Feerar emerged at quarterback last week for Lycoming and receiver Joe Hanna is a threat.
Juniata (0-2) at Wilkes (2-0)
This game is critical if the Eagles want to keep pace in the MAC, where they’ve lost two already. The Commonwealth’s Eagles need the win against the Freedom’s Colonels as much for confidence as anything. The Eagles, who averaged a league-best 42.9 points per outing last season, have scored just 14 points in two games this year. The Colonels need to avoid looking ahead to coming showdowns with Susquehanna and Lycoming.