IUP FOOTBALL: HAWKS 62, MILLERSVILLE 3 -- IUP honors its past with throwback win reminiscent of 1993 team
It was a day when the IUP football program honored its fabled 1993 team, so it was fitting that the Crimson Hawks came up with a 1993-like performance.
Eight players scored touchdowns, No. 7 IUP (5-0) rolled up 521 yards of offense, the defense once again kept the opponent out of the end zone, and the Crimson Hawks celebrated a busy homecoming Saturday with a 62-3 thrashing of Millersville at the newly-named Frank Cignetti Field at George P. Miller Stadium.
During the game, the university honored the team that 20 years ago played for the NCAA Division II national championship and came within a breath of winning it all. At halftime, the field was officially named in honor of Cignetti, the coach from 1986 to 2005 who took the program to unparalleled heights.
Throw in a huge crowd for homecoming, and you have all the trappings for a memorable day for anyone associated with the IUP football program.
“It was a special day,” said IUP head coach Curt Cignetti, the eldest son of Frank Cignetti. “You had the ’93 team back here. It was homecoming and we had a nice crowd. Obviously, Dad had the field named after him, which is a great thing for him. So it was a really good day.”
For those who remember the 1993 team, Saturday’s game must have felt like déjà vu all over again.
Twenty seasons ago, IUP ripped through its regular-season schedule, dispatching the likes of Kutztown (54-9), Lock Haven (52-14), Shippensburg (45-10), California (52-13) and Clarion (44-7) en route to the championship game, where it lost 41-34 to North Alabama on a last-second touchdown.
Saturday’s mauling of the Marauders (0-5) probably looked a lot like some of those 1993 games, and there’s good reason for that: JeMone Smith, a big-play wide receiver on that team, spoke to the team Friday night and inspired the Crimson Hawks to band together and focus on the road ahead.
Smith’s words clearly had an impact.
“That was probably one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard,” said defensive lineman Larry Gooden. “He talked to us about being a family and knowing what we wanted to accomplish and knowing where we wanted to go.”
“What he said was huge,” said left tackle Byron Dovales. “He talked to us about staying together, and that was the biggest thing because I think a lot of us could have come into this and said, ‘Oh, this is Millersville,’ but he reminded us of what the ’93 team did. After we saw that, we knew we just had to come out and play hard.”
Thanks to Smith’s inspiration, the Crimson Hawks came out in high gear and used a 21-point first quarter to take control of the game. From there, the question wasn’t if IUP was going to win, but by how many points.
The Crimson Hawks led 35-3 at halftime, with De’Antwan Williams contributing a rushing touchdown, quarterback Mike Box throwing for three scores — to Terrill Barnes (23 yards), Sean McVay (7) and Tyler Dummermuth (6) — and freshman cornerback Jay Watkins adding a touchdown on a 20-yard fumble return.
Dovales said Smith’s talk on Friday motivated the team to use the first half as an example of what kind of day the Marauders were in for.
“We were trying to put up 40 points at halftime,” he said, “just to show (the ’93 team) that IUP is back.”
Curt Cignetti put in his backups in the second half, but the points continued to pile up. Freshman running back Israel Green scored twice on runs, tight end Khaliq Coleman caught his first career touchdown pass, and reserve quarterback Steve Franco dived in from a yard out to finish off IUP’s 12th game in which it scored at least 60 points.
Green, who rushed for more than 3,800 yards in his high school career, had his best day as a Crimson Hawk, with 103 yards on 16 carries after starter De’Antwan Williams was pulled following a brief, 13-carry, 98-yard performance in the first half.
Franco, a transfer from Akron, relieved Box in the third quarter and completed all six of his pass attempts for 82 yards and the 21-yard touchdown pass to Coleman, another redshirt freshman.
“We spread the ball around today to some other guys, and that was good,” said Curt Cignetti.
Millersville’s offense mustered very little against an IUP defense that did not allow a touchdown for the fourth straight game. The Marauders got on the scoreboard on a first-quarter field goal, but they never reached the red zone again and totaled just 180 yards of offense on just 49 plays. Eight of the Marauders’ 14 possessions ended after three plays or fewer.
The only downside for the IUP defense was that Millersville running back Ian Sadon rushed for 124 yards on 20 carries, becoming the first opposing player to gain at least 100 yards against IUP since Mercyhurst’s Brandon Brown-Dukes gained 134 on Oct. 20, 2012.
Gooden said Millersville added some wrinkles to its playbook.
“It was a little different than what we saw on film,” he said. “They were doing more draws. We had practiced more sweeps and counters. We had to calm down and catch up the draw. We rushed so much that when they slowed down, it opened things up for them.”
That might be about the only thing that didn’t go IUP’s way on Saturday. It was otherwise a memorable day with perfect weather, when the Crimson Hawks honored their past by showing the future looks bright.
But Dovales knows the win doesn’t guarantee anything yet.
“It feels good, but it’s not as satisfying,” he said of the win. “Yeah we’re 5-0, but we haven’t won anything yet. Nobody’s been invited to the playoffs yet, nobody has won the PSAC championship and nobody has won regionals. We haven’t done anything yet.”