For 15 minutes of Saturday, the 2013 IUP football team looked a lot like the 2012 IUP football team.
That’s because the Crimson Hawks’ offensive line took over the game against Mercyhurst, and IUP was able to snap a two-game losing streak with an impressive 28-6 win at Mercyhurst, in Erie.
“We were able to find something in the fourth quarter to sort of hang our hat on, scratch out some first downs and run some of the clock,” said IUP coach Curt Cignetti.
Over the previous two games, the IUP offense gained only 245 yards on the ground, which historically has been what the Crimson Hawks have gained on an average Saturday.
But against a tough Mercyhurst defense, IUP got things somewhat turned around by rushing for 207 yards and four touchdowns, including a career-high 186 yards by senior running back De’Antwan Williams.
Most impressive was the fourth quarter, when IUP held the ball for 11 minutes and 20 seconds out of a possible 15 minutes. The Crimson Hawks had just two possessions in the quarter, but both were productive because they kept the ball away from the Lakers.
The first one was 12 plays, covered 58 yards and choked 6:42 off the clock, but ended with a turnover on downs at the Mercyhurst 29-yard line. The second drive was nine plays, covered 43 yards, ate another 4:46 and ended with quarterback Mike Box’s 1-yard touchdown run with 38 seconds left to play.
“We came out with the mentality that (running the ball) is what we wanted to do,” left guard Nick Carnicella said, “and we went out and did exactly that.”
The main reason the Crimson Hawks were able to run the ball so effectively is that the five-man offensive line played its first game since the season opener with the starters at their normal positions. Because of an injury to center Matt Sasson (broken hand) on Sept. 7, the line has shuffled through several reincarnations that had some linemen out of position.
But the starting five of tackles Byron Dovales and Jorge Vicioso, guards Carnicella and Mike Charmo, and Sasson, the center, was together for the first time all season.
Bruce Atkins, who started at right tackle in the season opener, is still unavailable because of a broken hand he suffered against Seton Hill on Sept. 21, and Vicioso has played every game since in his place. The two battled throughout preseason camp for the job, which Atkins won, although Vicioso has played well since taking over.
Having the five linemen playing in their normal positions is a huge deal for the Crimson Hawks, who went 14 games last season with the same starting five: Dan Matha, Anthony DiPasquale, Carnicella, Charmo, and Dovales. Because of that, IUP ended up ranked 10th in the nation in rushing, at 259.3 yards per game, and was also second in time of possession.
“Getting everyone back to where they need to be is a big thing,” Carnicella said. “So much of what we do is mental, so it’s a good thing to have us back where we were supposed to be.”
Cignetti agreed that it was nice to have the starting five all back in their familiar positions, but said there’s no reason to be content.
“It was (nice),” he said. “But we can still get better and play better.”
That can also be said for the rest of the Crimson Hawks, who still entertain hopes — albeit slim — of getting back to the NCAA Division II playoffs. Beating Mercyhurst was just another step along the way for a team that still hasn’t played its best football yet.
“I don’t think there is anyone too satisfied right now,” Cignetti said. “So we’re going to keep pushing forward.”
Want to talk IUP football? Take part in “Hawk Talk,” the Gazette’s weekly online chat with IUP football beat reporter Matt Burglund. Wednesdays at noon, at indianagazette.com.