GREENSBURG — Don’t be fooled by the score. Pretty much from the start, it was pretty clear how this one was going to go.
Dom McNeil took a short pass over the middle from Quinton Maxwell and turned it into a 75-yard touchdown on IUP’s third play from scrimmage, igniting the Crimson Hawks in what eventually became a 50-23 drubbing of Seton Hill on Saturday in a PSAC West game at Offutt Field.
The 27-point final margin is misleading because the host Griffins were never really in the game. The 19th-ranked Crimson Hawks (8-1 overall, 5-1 PSAC West) led 23-0 in the second quarter and they played many of the second- and third-teamers after halftime, when Seton Hill was able to make the game look closer than it was.
“You get involved in a game like this and you get a lead and you want to try to pull back a little bit,” said IUP coach Paul Tortorella. “You want to play as many players as you can play and sometimes it gets frustrating a little bit, but a win’s a win, and when you win by four touchdowns on the road, you don’t really complain.”
If he wanted to, Tortorella probably could complain about plenty of things. The offense didn’t really find a rhythm until the second half and struggled in the red zone. The defense allowed too many third-down conversions and had way too many penalties. And special teams had an extra-point kick and a punt blocked, and it also muffed a punt return that Seton Hill (2-6, 2-4) recovered.
But, when you’re a team going places, and the Crimson Hawks are on the verge of going to the NCAA Division II playoffs, and when you’re playing a team that’s struggling — Seton Hill has only three wins in the past three seasons — you can make those kind of mistakes and still win the game going away.
“It was a good day,” said IUP tailback Justice Evans, who rushed for a career-high 175 yards on only 11 carries. “I mean we put up 50 points. Our defense probably could play better, and our offense had a couple drives where we were inside the five and couldn’t score. So, we just got to get better.”
IUP outgained Seton Hill 538-379 despite the Griffins running 83 plays to IUP’s 64. The Crimson Hawks’ offense scored seven touchdowns, with the longest scoring drive taking nine plays to complete. Otherwise, Seton Hill benefitted from a tired IUP defense that had to be on the field seven minutes more than its quick-scoring offense.
After McNeil’s touchdown put the Crimson Hawks ahead 7-0, JoJo Gause caught a 2-yard scoring pass from Maxwell, and then the next four IUP scores were on runs, by Duane Brown (2 yards), Evans (52 and 27) and Maxwell (3). The second-team offense capped the scoring on Jalen Reese’s 26-yard touchdown pass to Qashah Carter on a fourth-and-goal from the Seton Hill 26 with about 90 seconds left to play.
Maxwell had a season-low nine completions in 17 attempts for 181 yards with one interception before Reese took over in the fourth quarter. Reese went 3 of 5 for 67 yards.
After rushing for just 73 yards in the first half, the IUP offense made a commitment to running the ball in the second half and gained 217 yards on only 22 carries.
“Our mindset changed,” said right guard Josh Dauberman. “We started slow again and then it just picked up.”
The Crimson Hawks also got two points on a safety in the first quarter, when defensive end Dondrea Tillman drilled Seton Hill running back Michael Valentino in the end zone. The safety was just one of the big plays Tillman made, in addition to his four total tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and one pass breakup.
Tillman, who had 12ﾽ sacks last season, entered the game with only 3.5. But the Griffins could do little to stop keep him down.
“It’s been very, very frustrating,” Tillman said of his season. “I know I’ve just got to trust the process and know that my plays are gonna come to me if I just keep working hard.”
Linebacker Damon Lloyd had a game-high 13 tackles, and Nick Amendola had nine tackles and a forced fumble, which Will Mayr recovered.
Seton Hill, which rushed for only 13 yards, had to go to the air in order to do anything on offense. Quarterback Ryan Barabe completed 32 of 58 attempts for 366 yards and three scores — all to Kinan Humphrey against the backup IUP defense. Barabe’s 58 attempts are the most by an opposing QB since Seton Hill’s Drew Jackson attempted 71 passes in 2014.
The Griffins were benefitted by three pass interference penalties against IUP, continuing a painful trend for the Crimson Hawks this season.
“When they throw it 50 times, that that’s going to happen, as much man defense as we play,” Tortorella said. “But we just got to do a better job of playing the ball. You just gotta keep working at it and do a better job of keeping your hands off the guy because if it’s close, they’re going to call it.”
The Crimson Hawks, who ranked No. 4 in this week’s regional rankings, need to win their final two games to guarantee themselves a spot in the playoffs. So, on a day when they could have played a lot better, the Crimson Hawks didn’t leave Greensburg feeling bad.
“In the grand scheme of things, you just got to play well enough to win,” Tortorella said. “Obviously some games you don’t have to play great to win and there’s going to be games where you’re going to have to play great to win. So, we just got to understand that. We’ve got things that we’ve got to clean up.”
NOTES: Starting center Jeff Arnold left the game with a knee injury on IUP’s sixth offensive play. Tortorella said the injury was to Arnold’s MCL and that his status is uncertain. Redshirt freshman Collin Pietropola played the rest of the way. … In the last three meetings with Seton Hill, Evans has totaled 426 rushing yards. … Saturday was the first game of the season in which Brown did not catch a touchdown pass. … IUP improved to 7-0 all-time vs. the Griffins.