IUP FOOTBALL: HAWKS 55, GANNON 20: Indiana routs Knights for third straight win
There’s little doubt in Curt Cignetti’s mind that the IUP football team is worthy of a spot in the NCAA Division II playoff field.
Whether the playoff committee agrees is another question altogether, and that’s something the Crimson Hawks have no control over. But they made their best case Saturday by thrashing Gannon in their regular-season home finale.
IUP rolled up a season-high 658 yards of offense and used a 21-point outburst in the third quarter to blow the game open and breeze to a 55-20 win over the Golden Knights in a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division game at Frank Cignetti Field.
“Are we one of the best six teams in the region? Yeah, we are,” Cignetti said, “but with the playoff system, the way they pick them, it’s not over yet. We’ll focus in on the next game and see where it falls.”
With one regular-season game to play — next week at Shippensburg in a rematch of last year’s PSAC State Game — the Crimson Hawks are 8-2 (5-2 PSAC West) but remain on the outside looking in at the playoff picture. IUP has yet to crack the Super Region One rankings, and with one game remaining, time is running out.
Yet, the players insist they’re not thinking about that.
“Only worried about next week,” senior quarterback Mike Box said. “Everything else, we gave up our right to be worried about it. We’re going to have to focus on next week and pray, hope for the best because that’s all we can focus on.”
Box had his first 300-yard passing game of the season, and he completed 21 of 25 attempts for 378 yards and four touchdowns.
IUP also rushed for 280 yards, the Crimson Hawks’ third straight game with 200-plus yards, and senior running back De’Antwan Williams scored three touchdowns while eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
“It’s a lot of fun on offense when we’re doing stuff like this,” Box said.
“That’s what you aim for,” senior offensive lineman Nick Carnicella said of Williams’ 1,000-yard season. Pointing to his quarterback, Carnicella added, “And also, to give him the protection to throw all those touchdowns today, too, helped. It’s just fun.”
“That’s an accomplishment that everybody can share in because without good line play, it can’t be possible,” Cignetti said of Williams’ milestone. “And he’s a really good runner, and he does break tackles. But that is sort of something that the line does share. And you know our line, we had them back together for two games, but this week, we lost Mike Charmo, who’s probably been our most consistent lineman.”
It didn’t matter against Gannon.
Erik Finklea led IUP’s rushing attack with 174 yards on just 12 carries, including an 81-yard touchdown run.
Williams scored a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs along with a 23-yard scamper and finished with 73 yards as IUP moved the ball at will.
The Crimson Hawks put together five scoring drives of 70 yards or more, and all but one of them took seven plays or fewer.
“It was a good win against a quality team,” Cignetti said. “We dominated and could have scored a lot more. I tried to get out of the game, but they kept throwing it and wanting to try to score points.”
Gannon (5-5) began the season 4-2, a fast start that included a win over Slippery Rock, which clinched the PSAC West crown Saturday and earned a berth in next weekend’s PSAC State Game. However, the Golden Knights have lost three of their past four games, but they remained in the hunt for the PSAC West title entering Saturday, making IUP’s win over the Knights all the more significant.
“It’s a good win because theoretically they were still in play for the league championship,” Cignetti said. “They would have won the league if they would have beat us, and if Slippery Rock would have lost today, they would have won the conference.”
Box threw a pair of touchdowns passes to freshman tight end Kevin Edwards, who was playing in place of injured starter Tyler Dummermuth, and Box also connected with Pat Brewer (37 yards) and Terrill Barnes (16 yards) to round out his first four-touchdown day of the season.
Barnes finished with game highs of eight catches and 151 yards for his fourth 100-yard game of the season.
“We’re 8-2, and by most people’s standards, that’s a pretty darn good year, but I know our kids are probably a little disappointed,” Cignetti said.
IUP entered the season with high expectations and had in its sights the school’s first national championship after making a deep run in the playoffs last season.
Those aspirations were dashed when the Crimson Hawks dropped back-to-back games in mid-October to Slippery Rock and Edinboro.
IUP has bounced back since then to win three straight games, but it still might not be enough to get back to the postseason.
Nonetheless, Cignetti is pleased with the performances his team has put forth since then.
“I give our kids credit for digging out of a hole after we lost two in a row in the middle of the season,” he said, “to kind of regroup and get a little closer together, and do the things they had to do to be successful.
“But we’re still really banged up. I don’t think there are many teams across the country that really could absorb the kind of injuries we’ve had this year. Going into this game, we had 58 games missed by starters because of injuries. That’s 5.8 per game. And it looks like we’ve got a couple more in this one, maybe.”
IUP took a 13-7 lead after the first quarter and stretched the advantage to 28-14 at halftime before icing the win with a 21-point third quarter in front of a crowd of more than 2,600 hungry IUP fans eager to see the Crimson Hawks end the home schedule on a positive note. IUP lost its previous home game to Edinboro three weeks ago before reeling off two straight road wins to keep its slim playoff aspirations alive.
“It was a good win, and I’m glad the seniors could cap off their last home game with a victory,” Cignetti said. “We’ve got some great seniors on this team.”
“It was a good time,” senior offensive lineman Nick Carnicella said. “It was a good way to go out at home.”
About the only negative was the 10 penalties the Crimson Hawks were whistled for, including a handful of personal-foul penalties.
Each team was called for 10 penalties, and the teams combined for 225 penalty yards.
“It’s just hard-nosed football,” Box said. “They want to fight, be tough, and stick it out, and we’re never going to back down from anybody. Emotions flared. It is football. Tempers get high, and emotions … I’m glad things didn’t get too far out of hand, but it’s football. It’s an emotional game. You’ve got to play with emotion and passion, but sometimes it spills over.”
“The game got a little bit ugly in the second half,” Cignetti said. “We played pretty aggressive, but I have a hard time believing we had that many personal fouls. Now, we’ll see on the tape. But the kids played hard. It was a good win. They were loading the box on defense, opening up the passing game. We threw and caught pretty well. And I thought our defense — they’re a potent offense — they made some plays.”
IUP intercepted Gannon quarterback Liam Nadler twice. Junior Eric Williams, a Pitt transfer, came up with his team-leading sixth interception.
“I can’t really take all the credit to myself because it takes 11 guys to form a defense, so I give credit to all my defensive players,” Eric Williams said. “If it wasn’t for my D-linemen, and my front seven, they wouldn’t have gotten pressure to cause the pick.”