Since the day he was hired, Curt Cignetti’s fingerprints have been all over the IUP Crimson Hawks.
From the new “old” uniforms, to the team’s hectic practice pace, to the intensity on game day, it’s clear to see the huge impact Cignetti has had on a football program that was struggling when he arrived in January 2011.
There’s another area that Cignetti’s golden touch has helped the Crimson Hawks: He has overseen a drastic improvement of the team’s overall talent. When he arrived on campus more than three years ago, IUP had some positions with little talent on the roster, and unproven backups behind those starters.
But the 2013 team seems to be loaded just about everywhere, and Saturday’s 49-0 shellacking of Cheyney in the second game of the season was proof of that.
IUP whipped the Wolves despite injuries to eight key players, all of whom have started games at some point in their college careers: safeties Eric Williams, Kole Kraut and Chris Brown, linebacker Alexander Berdahl, cornerback Jerrell McFadden, nose guard Larry Gooden, wide receiver Salath Williams and center Matt Sasson.
Of those eight, only Eric Williams played against Cheyney, and he wasn’t in there that much. The rest were hurt either in the preseason or in last weekend’s 30-20 win at Southern Connecticut State.
“I think Southern Connecticut, in retrospect, was a very positive thing to happen to our team because of all the adversity we had with the injuries,” Cignetti said. “It was a dogfight that we had to pull out at the end. We were a little more at full strength for this game, although we had those … guys who did not dress and are significant contributors to our football team.”
IUP (2-0), the No. 8 team in the AFCA Division II poll, visits winless Seton Hill on Saturday (6 p.m.) to begin play in the PSAC West.
Against Cheyney, several backups entered the game and displayed the Crimson Hawks’ newfound depth. Dorian Lane recorded seven tackles in Berdahl’s “mike” linebacker spot; Mike Charmo replaced Sasson at center and Jorge Vicioso replaced Charmo at right guard; Mike Meriwether Jr. played well at cornerback in place of McFadden, who was held out because of a minor knee injury; and Marco Pecora continued to shine at free safety as Brown and Kraut rehab their injuries.
And then there were the backups, the guys who saw plenty of playing time once the game got out of reach.
Tailback Erik Finklea spelled starter De’Antwan “Rocket” Williams and rushed for a team-high 66 yards and scored a touchdown. True freshmen Israel Green and Patrick Ferguson got carries in the second half, and finished with 33 and 29 yards, respectively.
In the passing game, backup Sean McVay caught a touchdown pass from Mike Box for the second consecutive week, and Rashard Hendricks, Drew Carswell, Trey Campman and Joe Scott got some playing time in the second half. Young linemen Ethan Cooper, Tyler Wiegand, Ed Bier, Tony Morgante and Matt Reams got into the game and helped block for redshirt freshman quarterback Steve Franco.
On defense, linebackers Allen Holman (a team-high 11 tackles), Kevin Clarke (7) and Myles Catlin (6) stood out when their numbers were called. Lane, who made his second career start, said linebackers coach Jim Smith should get credit for the play of Holman, Clarke and Catlin.
“Coach prepares all the linebackers so that they’re ready,” Lane said. “If one man goes down, the next man steps up and is as good as everyone else.”
Up front, reserve defensive tackle Jeff Palmer recorded a sack, and nose guard James Price pounced on a fumble. In the secondary, James Griffin, Edward Estes, Ackeno Robertson and Andrew DeGol made plays.
It all adds up to a team that has enough depth that it can sustain some injuries and not miss a beat. That’s important for the Crimson Hawks, who have hopes of making a long run in the NCAA Division II playoffs.
“We took care of business today,” Cignetti said after the win over Cheyney, “and I was pleased.”
This story edited to correct the date Curt Cignetti began as coach at IUP.