2023 SUNY Cortland vs Lycoming

Landmark Week 2 Preview: SUNY Cortland Vs. Lycoming

Landmark Week 2 Preview: SUNY Cortland Vs. Lycoming

Here’s what to know as Lycoming hosts SUNY Cortland this weekend, with kickoff scheduled for 1 p.m. E.T. Saturday, Sept. 9 on FloFootball.

Sep 8, 2023 by Briar Napier
Landmark Week 2 Preview: SUNY Cortland Vs. Lycoming

It’s a new era in Lycoming football history.

That hasn’t been said often when talking about the Warriors’ program.

Largely a team with a stable infrastructure throughout its history — it had only played in one conference and been under the tutelage of two different head coaches since 1972 entering this season — Lycoming joined the Landmark for its first-ever season of football in 2023, taking part in NCAA Division III’s newest football-playing conference as it’ll battle all year for the right to be named the league’s inaugural football champion.

With a top-10 team coming to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to play the Warriors this weekend, you can’t get much better of a barometer if you’re Lycoming to see where you’re at as a squad and if you can truly contend in the Landmark when conference play kicks off next month. 

Still, the program that’s traveling over to visit, SUNY Cortland, has had one of the most electric offenses in all of D-III over the past few seasons and comes at teams in waves as a two-time defending playoff representative from its league. 

The Warriors will have their hands full if they want to pull off a statement win, but on a day in which they’ll honor a legendary coach that took them to new heights in the 1990s, perhaps Lycoming can turn back the clock and put up a performance for the ages in Week 2.

Here’s a look at what to watch out for as Lycoming hosts SUNY Cortland this weekend, with kickoff scheduled for 1 p.m. (ET) Saturday on FloFootball:

Past Power, New Era

Longtime D-III football fans recognize Lycoming as a once-powerful force in the sport, as the Warriors were frequent visitors to the playoffs with finishes as national runner-up twice in their history in both 1990 and 1997. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2008, however, but the program's infrastructure has been about as stable as it gets since decorated former coach Frank Girardi (who led Lycoming to those two national title game appearances) retired in 2007. 

Current coach and athletic director Mike Clark played on Girardi’s 1990 runner-up team and worked under him as an assistant in the late 1990s before assuming the head role upon his retirement, having been there ever since as Clark is now amid his 16th season in charge. 

This year is a little different, however, as Clark is doing something neither he nor Girardi ever did previously—play in a league other than the Middle Atlantic Conference, which the Warriors left in favor of the Landmark beginning this season. 

Two-time ex-national champ and former MAC rival Widener was first on the docket in 2023, with Lycoming losing 42-21 on the road this past weekend, but the positives were there for the Warriors on the field at times, especially concerning some of the underclassmen. 

Freshman running backs Quasim Benson and Terrance Oliver both rushed for touchdowns while sophomore wide receiver Dawson Debebe torched the Pride’s secondary for a six-catch, 152-yard, one-touchdown day, but multiple turnovers and a five-touchdown day from Widener quarterback Chase Diehl doomed the Warriors to an 0-1 start to the season. With their 2023 home opener up next on the horizon—which will include an official dedication of Lycoming’s home field as Girardi Stadium in pregame—they'll hope to reverse their fortunes in Week 2. 

Bringing The Heat

Now going for playoff appearance No. 3 in a row in 2023, the Red Dragons of SUNY Cortland (playing in the Empire 8 Conference as its two-time defending champion) lept up seven spots to No. 10 in the D3football.com Top 25 this week after a dominant season-opening win over previous No. 10 Delaware Valley. 

They surged out to a 21-0 lead after the first quarter and didn’t look back as tailback Jaden Alfano-St. John scampered for 171 yards on 27 carries with a touchdown, making up the biggest chunk of Cortland’s 306-yard rushing performance in all for the afternoon. The Red Dragons have been nothing short of fantastic, especially in the regular season, for each of the past two years. 

They started the 2021 season 10-0 before losing in the second round of the playoffs, then extended their regular season winning streak to 2022 (and as far as 18 games) before losing to arch rival Ithaca in the Cortaca Jug Game in front of over 40,000 people — the second-largest crowd in D-III football history — at Yankee Stadium. 

Cortland will be favored on the road at Lycoming as the Warriors will have their hands full in corralling a Red Dragons attack which averaged 45.1 points per game (third in D-III) and nearly 500 yards of total offense each time on the field a year ago. 

Cortland is paced by Alfano-St. John plus junior and reigning All-E8 First Team quarterback Zac Boyes, among other key names on the roster. But even with its ability to seemingly put points up at will in 2022 and early on in 2023, Cortland’s defense did show a few cracks late last season and into this year, particularly when it gave up two long touchdown passes to Delaware Valley this past weekend. But with the offensive firepower the Red Dragons have, it may not matter as they chase a run back to the playoffs.

Fish In The Mix?

Lycoming had an offseason dilemma—find a new quarterback to succeed the graduated Elijah Shemory, who had been the Warriors’ four-year starter under center since arriving as a freshman in the 2018 season. Clark had eight different signal-callers on the roster to choose from and designate the starter for the Widener game, and he ended up making the move to start Shemory’s backup, junior Will Fish, for the season opener following a three-touchdown game during Lycoming’s offseason exhibition in the spring over Vanier College in Canada. 

Fish’s first foray running the show in a regular season game, however, was rough. 

He had a great connection with Debebe all afternoon, but otherwise, he went just 11-for-35 passing for 188 yards in all, a touchdown and three interceptions as the Warriors failed to score in neither the first nor fourth quarters. A bounce back performance from Fish is needed for the Warriors to have any shot at taking down a top-10 team in D-III. 

Recent history suggests Cortland’s going to find ways to put up some points. Perhaps the key for Fish is finding ways for other wideouts to get involved or the wideouts providing more opportunities. Debebe had over half of Fish’s completions against the Pride, after all, as Lycoming’s next-leading receiver after him was Brandon Timothy at just three catches for 21 yards, most of which came on a 15-yard reception. 

Maybe it’s by further establishing the run game after some promise last week through the freshmen, though a total of 106 yards on the ground from the Warriors in Week 1 was still lower than any of Cortland’s regular season matchups last year. Any way that Lycoming wants to go about it, though, the offense must be clicking in order to put up a fight against the Red Dragons’ well-oiled machine — a task that not many D-III programs have proved capable of in the past few years.