As it turned out, the last month of the season didn’t matter for the IUP Crimson Hawks.
What did matter was one afternoon in October, when Edinboro pulled off a stunner that shocked the Crimson Hawks — and the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.
And that’s why IUP won’t be going to the playoffs.
Word officially came Sunday evening when the NCAA announced the invitees to the NCAA Division II playoffs. IUP was not picked, and the Crimson Hawks (9-2) won’t be a part of the 24-team tournament that begins Saturday.
Instead, their season is over with a good record, but a bad feeling left to deal with.
“I think the lesson here is that there is very little margin for error,” said IUP head coach Curt Cignetti. “There are 53 teams in our region. Basically, four conference champions and two at-large teams make the playoffs. Six out of 53. We were seventh. Other regions have 27-28 teams. Our guys need to know that you can’t slip up. Nevertheless, I am proud of how our guys bounced back. It showed their true character and fortitude.”
It ended up being quite a disappointment for a team that had high aspirations when it opened preseason camp in August. Back then, the Crimson Hawks were one of the popular picks for national champions, and the team stated it as a goal. Instead, IUP didn’t even make it into the tournament, and the reason was that one gut-wrenching afternoon against Edinboro.
Against the struggling Fighting Scots on Oct. 19, IUP just couldn’t get things going and suffered a 36-30 loss to a team that ended up with a mediocre 5-6 record. It was IUP’s first home loss under Cignetti in almost two years, and it came a week after a 42-16 setback to eventual West Division champion Slippery Rock.
The loss put IUP in a tough spot, because the Crimson Hawks knew that even if they won the rest of their games, it might not be enough to get them into the playoffs, and that’s exactly how it played out. IUP won its final four games, against Mercyhurst, Clarion, Gannon and Shippensburg, by a combined score of 167-61.
But in the end, that one painful loss to Edinboro proved to be too much to overcome, and that’s why the Crimson Hawks’ season is over.