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IUP FOOTBALL: Hawks' season-opening win better than appears on surface

by MATTHEW BURGLUND on September 11, 2013 10:40 AM

On the surface, IUP’s season-opening win at Southern Connecticut State doesn’t look too impressive, but head coach Curt Cignetti feels good about how his team played.

Most teams don’t face adversity like the Crimson Hawks stared down until much later in the season, and that’s why three days after the 30-20 win, Cignetti continued to praise his team for its resiliency, although he admitted there’s plenty of work to be done.

“Again, I think that we have to improve, and the players understand that we have to improve,” he said Tuesday, at his weekly news conference. “Maybe we have their attention a little bit better now than we did before because they can see it on tape. But we still overcame tremendous adversity up there. To go and play short-handed on the offensive line, and then to lose our center, we had to make all those adjustments.”

To recap, the Crimson Hawks (1-0) knew they would be without left guard Nick Carnicella, who was serving a one-game NCAA-mandated suspension. But on the first play of IUP’s third series, center Matt Sasson broke a knuckle on his right (snapping) hand and had to leave the game.

From there, it was a game of musical chairs as the IUP coaching staff rotated a number of players around the five line positions trying to find the right combination. Right guard Mike Charmo, who had never played center in college, moved over to replace Sasson, and transfer Jorge Vicioso hobbled off the bench with a bad knee and ended up contributing valuable playing time.

The Crimson Hawks, who moved up two spots to No. 8 in this week’s American Football Coaches Association Top 25 poll, welcome Cheyney (0-1) on Saturday in the home opener.

Come Saturday, Cignetti said he expects the starting lineup to be: Vicioso and Bruce Atkins at tackle, Byron Dovales and Charmo at guard, and Carnicella at center. Dovales, a three-year starter at left tackle, will move inside a slot to left guard.

Cignetti said Sasson had surgery on his hand Monday, and that he will miss at least a couple weeks. When Sasson returns, he will have his hand taped like a club, and he will play left guard, with Carnicella remaining at center.

“I don’t ever remember going into a game and losing linemen like that,” Cignetti said. “But I think our team will respond positively. I’m looking forward to getting on the practice field and getting better this week.”

• As for IUP’s other significant injury, to Alexander Berdahl, Cignetti said the senior linebacker was scheduled to see a hand specialist Tuesday and his status was unclear. While Berdahl is idled, junior Dorian Lane will start at middle linebacker. Lane had been the backup to Carl Fleming at the weak side, or “will” linebacker spot.

Cignetti also said that strong safety Eric Williams, who did not play Saturday because of a rib injury, is expected back this week, and wide receiver Salath Williams (foot) and defensive lineman Larry Gooden (knee) are likely to return in a couple weeks.

• In non-injury news, Cignetti said sophomore running back Montay Green was dismissed from the team Monday for “a consistent failure to comply with team rules.” Green did not accompany the team to Southern Connecticut for the season opener. Last year, Green rushed for 399 yards as the Crimson Hawks’ third-string tailback.

• Freshman Jay Watkins has been moved back to cornerback after spending the past three weeks on offense as a running back. He had one carry for minus-1 yard against Southern Connecticut. On defense, he will be the No. 2 field cornerback, behind Jeremiah McPhearson.

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