The injury bug has taken another bite out of the IUP Crimson Hawks.
Coach Curt Cignetti said Tuesday that tackle Bruce Atkins is out indefinitely with a broken hand that he suffered Saturday in IUP’s 26-0 win at Seton Hill.
“We didn’t know he was hurt until Sunday,” Cignetti said at his weekly news conference.
IUP (3-0), the No. 7 team in the American Football Coaches Association Division II Top 25, plays host to California (3-0) on Saturday in the fifth annual Coal Bowl. The Vulcans have won the four previous Coal Bowl matchups and six in a row overall in the series. Cignetti said Atkins was injured during pregame warm-ups Saturday but didn’t alert the coaching staff.
Atkins is the fourth IUP lineman to suffer some sort of injury since preseason began last month. Two of those four, tackles Byron Dovales and Jorge Vicioso, did not miss game time because of their injuries, but Atkins, like center Matt Sasson, has an injury that will force him to miss playing time.
It’s a change of pace from last season, when the IUP offensive line stayed healthy and intact throughout the season.
“The biggest thing about this year up to this point is that we’ve had an inordinate number of injuries,” Cignetti said “And obviously we’re still short-handed on the offensive line to some degree.”
Cignetti said he and his staff had not yet decided on the makeup of the offensive line without Atkins. One possibility is to have Sasson replace Vicioso at right guard, with Vicioso moving to right tackle to replace Atkins.
Another option is to work in freshmen Tony Morgante or Ethan Cooper somewhere along the line. Both have seen some playing time this season.
In addition to the linemen who are injured, several other key players have been limited by injuries: wide receiver Salath Williams, safeties Eric Williams, Kole Kraut and Chris Brown, defensive linemen Akeem Smith and Larry Gooden, linebacker Alexander Berdahl and cornerback Jerrell McFadden.
The good news is that some of those players are on the mend and could play this week against California. Sasson will be available Saturday, although not at his customary center position. He broke a knuckle on his right (snapping) hand and still cannot grip the ball. So he will have his hand heavily wrapped and will work at either of the guard spots.
Akeem Smith left the Seton Hill game with what was thought to be a serious leg injury, but Cignetti said the redshirt senior has a high ankle sprain and is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game.