The roughly eight-hour bus ride back home will be hard enough for the Southern Connecticut State football team.
But it won’t be as painful as the 60-minute game it played Saturday against the IUP Crimson Hawks.
Continuing a mantra instilled last year during Curt Cignetti’s first season as coach, the Crimson Hawks beat, battered and ultimately broke the Owls at Miller Stadium with a brutal 33-6 whipping in a non-conference game to kick off the 2012 season.
“I think we dominated the game, for the most part, on both sides,” Cignetti said. “But I don’t know if the score was really an indication of how much we dominated.”
That’s true. Although IUP outgained the Owls 456-192 and held almost a 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession, the Crimson Hawks made a couple mistakes that probably kept the game from getting out of hand. Running backs Harvie Tuck and Montay Green each fumbled the ball away inside the Owls’ 10-yard line and the defense had a mental lapse in the second quarter and gave up a touchdown.
But because the Crimson Hawks were so physical with the Owls, the outcome never really seemed in doubt.
And by the middle of the third quarter, when IUP led 31-6, Cignetti said he could tell that Southern Connecticut was throwing in the towel.
“Our goal is to break the other team’s will with our physical presence,” Cignetti said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt — and you saw it — that in the third quarter they’d had enough.”
On offense, IUP broke down the Owls with a brutal ground game that amassed 310 rushing yards, the 8th-highest total since 2000. Tuck (185 yards) and Green (101) went over the century mark, and the offensive line had its way with the Owls’ front line.
“I love it,” said left tackle Byron Dovales. “That’s how we practiced in camp on Day 1. We just wanted to be a physical kind of team. Today was just a great day. We just came out there and mashed, mashed, mashed and ran all over the place like we like to do.”
On defense, the Crimson Hawks weren’t bothered by the Owls’ bulky offensive line, and they held them to just 47 rushing yards and knocked SCSU’s starting quarterback out of the game in the first half.
From the Owls’ first snap on offense, a running play that gained nothing, the IUP defense gave up very little — only three of the Owls’ 11 possessions ended on IUP’s half of the field.
“We wanted to set the standard right from the jump,” said defensive end Errol Brewster. “First play, we all agreed that we were going to let them know what it was going to be like all day.”
It ended up being a painful day for the Owls, who went 7-3 last season in the Notheast-10 Conference. With the win, IUP is 7-0 all-time against SCSU.
But Cignetti isn’t about to crown his team as national championship contenders — far from it.
“I thought it was a good start,” he said. “But there a lot of areas we can improve.”
Green and Tuck scored touchdowns on rushes in the first half, and Brett Ullman added a 42-yard field goal as time expired to give the Crimson Hawks a 17-6 halftime lead. After the break, IUP scored on its first two possessions — on a 3-yard run by quarterback Pat Smith and a 51-yard pass from Smith to Tyler Dummermuth to put the game out of reach. The Crimson Hawks’ defense put the finishing touches on the beating by sacking SCSU quarterback Bobby Lippincott in the end zone for a safety.
By then, the Owls were broken and Cignetti was content.
“You can see it when you’re able to run the ball consistently and effectively and you’re able to stop the run on defense,” he said. “You can sense it on the field: the energy level of your team vs. the energy level of the opponent. That was always our goal at Alabama … dominate your man; break his will. That’s what we talk about as a football team, and our guys take pride in it.”
Another idea the Crimson Hawks talk about is the idea that perfection is unattainable, but it should be a goal. And after winning the first game of the season, Cignetti knows there’s a lot of work yet to do.
“I think it’s something to build on,” he said of the win, “but we have to continue building.”