IUP FOOTBALL: IUP 26, SETON HILL 0 -- Crimson Hawks overcome mistake-filled game, ride defense to victory
GREENSBURG — It’s not that the IUP Crimson Hawks felt bad about their win against Seton Hill on Saturday night.
It’s that they didn’t feel very good.
Despite a plethora of self-inflicted wounds, the No. 8 Crimson Hawks did enough right to get past the scrappy Griffins and come home with a 26-0 win at Offutt Field that was a little too close for comfort.
“It’s a win, you know? I don’t really have the words,” said IUP senior Terrell Holloway. “But it’s a win.”
On a night when IUP (3-0) didn’t look much like a top-10 team, Seton Hill (0-3) didn’t look anything like the one that lost 70-7 last week to East Stroudsburg. And maybe that was the problem for the Crimson Hawks, who play host to rival California (3-0) next Saturday in the annual Coal Bowl.
“We have to get ourselves up for these (kind of) games,” said IUP coach Curt Cignetti. “I think, obviously, we have a big game coming up next week against Cal. And this team, they lost 70-7 to East Stroudsburg because they made a lot of mistakes that they didn’t make tonight.”
IUP gained only 286 yards of offense and turned the ball over an uncharacteristic five times. The Crimson Hawks’ vaunted ground game never got going, and the team racked up 11 penalties that stalled drives on offense and extended some of Seton Hill’s.
And get this: A week after thrashing Cheyney 49-0, the Crimson Hawks led winless Seton Hill just 2-0 at halftime.
All in all, it was a bad night that followed an ugly rain-filled afternoon.
“We had a lack of focus coming in here,” said running back Erik Finklea, who scored two touchdowns and rushed for a team-high 76 yards. “I think the rain got to guys. We just kept shooting ourselves in the foot.”
In the first half, the only thing that seemed to go right for IUP was when Holloway broke through the line and blocked a punt by the Griffins’ Jesser Boulnemour and the ball went out of the back of the end zone for a safety with 13:43 left in the second quarter.
Other than that, the first half was an exhibition in frustration for the Crimson Hawks, who had only two of their eight possessions last more than three plays. And if it weren’t for the stingy IUP defense, which pitched its second consecutive shutout, things could have really gone south.
“I just don’t ever remember feeling so helpless at halftime of a game,” Cignetti said. “We just couldn’t do anything on offense. … It was like a different guy screwing up all the time.”
The offensive line couldn’t get much of a push, and penalties stalled drives at the worst possible time. Throw in an off night for quarterback Mike Box (11 of 22 for 146 yards with three interceptions) and you have the recipe for disaster.
“I think we sometimes just didn’t block it right,” Cignetti said of the ground game. “They were stacking the box to make us throw the ball, and then we were having trouble completing 6-yard passes.”
IUP broke it open in the third quarter with a two-touchdown burst in a span of 16 seconds that, because of the way the Crimson Hawks’ defense was playing, put the game out of reach.
First, the offense took good field position after a poor Seton Hill punt and went 30 yards in three plays, with Finklea finishing it off with a 9-yard touchdown run. On Seton Hill’s next play from scrimmage, Dorian Lane intercepted Nick Halfhill’s pass over the middle and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown to make the score 16-0.
Lane gave credit to defensive coordinator Paul Tortortella.
“Coach made the right call to put me in the right position to make a play,” he said. “It felt great because I was able to help the team when we needed it, and that was big because we weren’t all on the same page.”
Lane’s big play seemed to right the ship for IUP, which added 10 more points, on Finklea’s 21-yard touchdown run and Brett Ullman’s 28-yard field goal.
It was another banner night for the IUP defense, which registered its sixth shutout since Cignetti took over the program in 2011.
“We pride ourselves on not letting the other team score,” Holloway said. “We go into every game, and I mean every game, planning to get a shutout. It’s not that we’re trying to shut this team out or that team out. It’s every team. That’s what our mentality is.”
Seton Hill mustered just 115 yards of total offense, the fewest allowed by the IUP defense during the Cignetti era. The Crimson Hawks intercepted three passes, including two by safety Eric Williams.
Those big plays helped make up for the lackluster showing by the IUP offense.
“I thought we played well on defense, but we got no support from the offense,” Cignetti said. “The defense kept us into the game. I thought Seton Hill played well and they played hard. … It was really a very frustrating night from an offensive standpoint. But our defense played well. And it’s a win. When you can feel really bad about the way you play and still win, that’s a good thing.”
And although his team did not play anywhere near what it is capable of, Cignetti left Offutt Field with a feeling of optimism.
“I’m not worried because I know we have our bad game behind us,” he said. “I’m just disappointed in the way we played.”
NOTES: IUP lost senior defensive tackle Akeem Smith to a leg injury in the first half. Cignetti said the prognosis “looked bad.” … Linebacker Carl Fleming did not play because of a suspension, and redshirt freshman Kevin Clarke recorded a team-high 11 tackles in his place. … After getting only two sacks in the first two games of the season, IUP had six against Seton Hill, led by Shane Meisner’s two. … Since 2000, IUP is 15-1 in games in which it returns an interception for a touchdown. … Seton Hill held a slight edge in time of possession, marking the third time in as many games that the opponent has held the ball longer than IUP. Last season, the Crimson Hawks were second in the nation in time of possession.