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IUP FOOTBALL: IUP 42, CLARION 14 -- Crimson Hawks roll, avoid letdown

by MATTHEW BURGLUND on November 03, 2013 2:40 AM

CLARION — Sometimes there’s something to be said for just taking care of business.

Facing what could have been one of those infamous distraction games, the IUP Crimson Hawks shoved aside any concerns with a quick start that fueled them to an easy 42-14 whipping of Clarion on Saturday in a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division showdown at the Golden Eagles’ Memorial Stadium.

IUP (7-2 overall, 4-2 PSAC West) used a 14-0 outburst to start the game and set the tone for a long day for the Golden Eagles, who are struggling to stay competitive with several key injuries.

All in all, it was a matter of the Crimson Hawks simply doing their jobs.

“That’s pretty much what we did,” said IUP head coach Curt Cignetti, who improved to 3-0 against Clarion. “We were physical and we took it to them.”

IUP outgained the Golden Eagles 402-298, forced three turnovers and generally dominated both sides of the ball. It was a welcomed day for a team that still retains playoff hopes after back-to-back losses last month that sent it into a tailspin.

But since losing to Slippery Rock and Edinboro, the Crimson Hawks have beaten Mercyhurst and Clarion to stay in the thick of the hunt for an NCAA Division II playoff berth.

“We got refocused,” said IUP quarterback Mike Box, who threw for 79 yards and a touchdown before giving way to backups Steve Franco and Logan Weaver in the second half. “You don’t always want a wake-up call, but we’ve got our eyes on the prize now.”

That prize seems a little more attainable now after the Crimson Hawks dispatched Clarion. Slippery Rock’s win over California on Saturday all but assures The Rock of the PSAC West title, so IUP’s playoff hopes lie on winning the rest of its games and hoping a 9-2 record is good enough to sway the NCAA into an invitation to the playoff party.

And if the Crimson Hawks’ performance at Clarion is any indication, IUP is starting to play its best ball — at the right time.

“We really just need to be staying focused,” Box said. “We’re in a good place right now.”

IUP raced to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on two scoring runs from tailback De’Antwan “Rocket” Williams, who finished the day with 129 yards on 18 carries. Clarion answered with Travis Day’s 11-yard touchdown run, but a tide-turning series of events in the second quarter made the game a rout.

First, Clarion quarterback Darrelle Carson suffered a hand injury that forced him to leave the game midway through the second quarter.

IUP’s Larry Gooden sacked Carson’s replacement, Matt Futkos, who fumbled the ball away to the Crimson Hawks’ Carl Fleming. On the next play, Box faked an end-around handoff to Pat Brewer and slung a 30-yard touchdown pass to Terrill Barnes that made the score 21-7.

“That’s called going for the jugular,” Box said. “You always like to turn those turnovers into points, and that’s one of those plays you always love to execute.”

On Clarion’s next possession, Futkos left the game with an apparent knee injury, and the Golden Eagles went to a Wildcat offense, with fullback Bobby Thomas taking the snaps. On a third-down play, Thomas threw an ill-advised pass to the flat that IUP safety Marco Pecora picked off and raced 45 yards for a touchdown that sent IUP to a 28-7 halftime lead and pretty much put the game out of reach.

IUP defensive lineman Akeem Smith said the Crimson Hawks barely noticed the quarterback change that made things so much easier.

“It didn’t matter,” said Smith. “Our game plan is the same for anybody who is in there. We weren’t concerned with who was in there. It was just about us doing our job. That’s it.”

Carson returned to the game in the second half with his throwing hand heavily wrapped, but it mattered little. IUP added 14 points in the second half, on Box’s 1-yard plunge and a 21-yard pass from Franco to Drew Carswell that made it 42-7. Clarion tacked on a late touchdown long after the game was decided.

The only real issue for IUP in the second half was penalties. The Crimson Hawks were flagged a total of eight times for 92 yards, including five personal fouls, one of which resulted in the ejection of backup defensive back Andrew DeGol.

Cignetti was naturally disappointed in the penalties, and he said the Crimson Hawks need to clean those up. But Box said the penalties should serve as a learning tool for the younger players.

“You have to keep a cool head out there, but it’s an emotional game,” he said. “You can’t let the emotions get the best of you. When things get dicey, you have to respond with your pads.”

Other than that, it was a good day for the Crimson Hawks, despite the miserable weather that had a steady rain falling throughout much of the afternoon. Now the focus turns to Gannon, which comes to Indiana next Saturday for Senior Day, the final home game of the season.

Box, one of IUP’s many seniors, said he feels confident that he and his teammates are putting themselves in position to at least be in the playoff conversation thanks to their improved play the past two weeks.

“Every game, we’re just trying to go out and get better,” he said. “We’re coming together right now and we’re playing better as a unit.”

That’s music to Cignetti’s ears.

“We took care of business today like we needed to,” Cignetti said. “Now the focus is on Gannon. We’re gaining steam at the right time.”

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