Last week, the IUP Crimson Hawks got a physical test. This week, it’s a mental challenge.
A week after opening the season with a hard-fought, injury-filled 30-20 win at Southern Connecticut State, IUP opens its home schedule Saturday against Cheyney, a team that has struggled to win games more than just about any other team in the country — at any level.
The Wolves have not had a winning season since 1979, they have never beaten IUP in five previous meetings, and they haven’t won more than one game in a single season since 2003.
So unlike Southern Connecticut, a traditional power in the Northeast-10 Conference loaded with size and skill, the Wolves probably won’t have the firepower to knock off IUP, the reigning Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference champions.
But that doesn’t mean IUP head coach Curt Cignetti is at ease. He knows the Wolves will bring a challenging triple-option offense to Miller Stadium, and he knows his team could struggle if it doesn’t do what it’s coached to do.
“It’s assignment football,” he said. “Somebody’s gotta have the dive; somebody’s gotta have the quarterback; somebody’s gotta have the pitch. And you can’t fall asleep on play-action passes. Every guy has to do his job, he has to do his assignment. If one guy breaks down, the whole defense can break down.”
Cheyney gained an impressive 248 yards on the ground last week against Lincoln, but the Wolves will face a tougher test in the IUP defense, which is still smarting after allowing an uncharacteristic 142 rushing yards last week. Last year, Cheyney gained 207 rushing yards in its season opener against Lincoln, but managed just 9 yards against IUP the following week in a 56-0 loss to the Crimson Hawks.
“I think they’re improved over last year,” Cignetti said. “I expect we’ll have to play well. This is our second game, and most teams make significant improvement from the first game to the second game. It happens on the practice field, and we’re expecting that.”
Cignetti is also expecting a good show for the home crowd, which hasn’t seen the Crimson Hawks since November. IUP’s last three games have all been far away, so the turnout ought to be good for the annual Hall of Fame game.
“I think our team will be excited to come out and play,” Cignetti said. “We’re excited to play at home. Our last three games have been long road trips, so it will be nice to be back home. I think we’ll have good support. I think the people in town are excited. I know we’re excited to play at home.”