SLIPPERY ROCK — A game was lost, but all is not lost, for the IUP Crimson Hawks.
Two days after they suffered their first setback of the season, 45-42 at Slippery Rock, the Crimson Hawks are back to work, getting ready to travel to Clarion this weekend with a chance to erase the pain of losing a rivalry game.
It was a painful loss, for sure. IUP fell behind 17-0 and 31-7 in the first half but put together a rally that nearly made history. But at the game’s most critical juncture, Slippery Rock did just enough to win the game.
Despite giving control of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division to Slippery Rock, the Crimson Hawks still have a lot to play for. They can still win the division, although they’ll need some help. They can certainly make it to the playoffs, although they probably cannot afford another loss.
And if IUP gets into the 28-team tournament, there’s probably nobody in the Crimson Hawks’ locker room who doesn’t think they’re capable of making some serious noise.
“The first thing you have to realize is there’s worse things in life than losing a football game,” said IUP quarterback Quinton Maxwell. “But we still control our destiny. There’s a lot of the goals that this team had going into the year that are still out there for the taking. All we’ve got to focus on is going 1-0 next week.”
The good news is that it looks like IUP’s toughest games are in the rearview mirror. The remaining schedule features road games at Clarion, Seton Hill and Shippensburg, and home contests with Gannon and Edinboro. Entering this weekend’s games, none of those five have a winning record. In fact, they’re a combined 8-21.
So it stands to reason IUP has a very real opportunity to finish 10-1. That ought to be good enough to earn the Crimson Hawks an NCAA Division II playoff berth for the fourth time in the past five seasons.
Slippery Rock coach Shawn Lutz thinks it will happen, and if it does, there’s always the chance the two teams could meet again.
“IUP’s going to run the table,” he said. “They’ve already played (California). We’re probably going to see them again. Hopefully we’ll both make the playoffs. I don’t like to say stuff like that because we still have some games to play, but I feel like they’re a great football team and we’re a great football team.”
Lutz said he would be OK if his team doesn’t see IUP again this season.
“I don’t want to play them, again,” he said. “I don’t want to play a team twice. (But) if we play them, I hope we play them at the last possible chance.”
IUP coach Paul Tortorella was asked if he thought his team could get a rematch, but he wouldn’t even go there.
“Your goal’s got to be to win the next game, which it always is,” he said. “You can’t say ‘if we win out.’ Don’t worry about that. Just win the next game. If we continue to do that and win from week to week, things have a way of working out at the end.”
FLAG DAZE: Saturday’s game was part of the PSAC’s Officials Appreciation and Sportsmanship Week, an annual event designed to honor sportsmanship and the people who uphold the game’s rules.
But Tortorella was left scratching his head about some of the calls — and non-calls — in such a close game.
“Very inconsistent, very inconsistent, the ways the calls are,” he said. “One time you run down and the guy’s grabbing your shirt and it’s not pass interference and another time you grab a guy’s shirt and it is pass interference. So, I don’t know.”
The Crimson Hawks were penalized 14 times, the most they’ve been called for in a game in almost eight years. Those 14 penalties totaled 135 yards, which is IUP’s highest yardage total since last year’s game against Slippery Rock, when they were flagged 12 times for 145 yards.
It could have been worse, though. For one, Slippery Rock was penalized 10 times for 125 yards, numbers that offset a little of what went against IUP. The other thing is that the Crimson Hawks were somewhat lucky that they had two penalties declined and four that were offsetting because The Rock were flagged on the same play.
Seven of IUP’s 14 penalties came against the offense: two false starts, two illegal blocks, two holds and one intentional grounding. One on special teams, for an illegal block, erased what would have been a 42-yard touchdown on a punt return by Duane Brown.
“To score 42 points with the amount of penalties we had on offense is remarkable,” Tortorella said. “Literally remarkable.”
NOTES: Dom McNeil had career highs of 10 catches and 141 receiving yards, making him the fifth IUP wide receiver to have a 100-yard game this season, joining Duane Brown (vs. Mercyhurst and California), JoJo Gause (California), Dwine Walls (Lock Haven) and Cam Turner (Millersville). The six 100-yard receiving games this season equals the total by IUP pass catchers in the past two seasons combined. … Maxwell finished with 360 passing yards, making him what is believed to be the first QB in school history to have three consecutive 300-yard games. In six games, he has thrown for 1,608 yards and 17 touchdowns.