IUP FOOTBALL slide

For the IUP coaching staff, Senior Day is always a little bittersweet.

Sure, it’s a celebration, honoring those players who are taking the field for the final time on Frank Cignetti Field. But it’s also the acknowledgement of the end, knowing those seniors will not be a part of the program when the 2020 season gets underway.

For this year’s crop of seniors, Saturday’s game against Edinboro will be the final home showcase of their talents, and for a group that has a collective four-year record of 39-7, two NCAA Division II playoff berths and a third one likely coming in two weeks, there is a lot to celebrate.

“These seniors have been involved heavily in those 39 wins,” said IUP coach Paul Tortorella. “They were here for all of them, and they’ve done a really good job off the field. A lot of these guys have been involved with the community service, have really good academics and very few problems or issues. They’ve been really good representatives of the university. They deserve a good Senior Day.”

Beyond the wins and losses and championships this class has won, there are some statistics worth mentioning because they jump off the page.

In the 46 games they have played, the 20 seniors:

• Have played in a collective total of 578 games with 357 starts. Five of them — linebackers Nick Amendola (35) and Damon Lloyd (35), center Jeff Arnold (45), wide receiver JoJo Gause (34) and kicker Dillon Sarka (34) — have started at least 30 games apiece.

• Have outscored their opponents by an average margin of three touchdowns — 40-19 and outgained them by a more than 2-to-1 ratio — 20,899 yards to 9,326.

• Have gained more than 500 yards of offense 16 times and allowed fewer than 300 yards on defense 20 times.

• Have held 10 teams to a touchdown or less, with three shutouts, while the offense has never been held to fewer than 13 points.

• Have scored at least 50 points in a game 12 times.

• Are 26-0 when holding an opponent to 17 points or fewer.

• Have played in front of more than 126,000 fans.

While those numbers reflect only what’s happened the past four seasons, here’s one to consider for all time: The 39-7 record translates to an .848 winning percentage, the fifth-best in IUP history. This class trails only the 1993 (.900), 1994 (.878), 1992 (.870) and 1969 (.865) classes in that regard.

“This group doesn’t have to stand behind anybody for what they’ve done both on and off the field,” Tortorella said.

All of these numbers will be little more than footnotes if the 19th-ranked Crimson Hawks (8-1) don’t take care of business against a rebuilding Edinboro team that has gone 3-2 since starting the season 0-4. IUP needs to win this game and then beat Shippensburg next Saturday to guarantee itself a playoff berth, which would be this senior class’s third in four seasons.

It likely won’t be an easy game. The Fighting Scots, who started the season with a lot of new faces in the starting lineup, are coming off back-to-back wins over Clarion and Seton Hill and would like nothing more than to extend their win streak to three.

“We’re expecting them to come in here and give us all we can handle,” Tortorella said. “That’s not coachspeak. I mean, it’s probably like their Super Bowl, really.”

Edinboro’s main weapon is wide receiver Ta’Nauz Gregory, a senior who has terrorized the PSAC the past few years with his big-play ability as a pass catcher and kick returner. This season, he has caught 57 passes for 789 yards and seven scores and averages 26.0 yards per kickoff return.

In his four-year career, Gregory has 224 catches for 3,119 yards and 35 touchdowns, all of which are Edinboro records.

“They’re capable of running the ball and also of hitting the big play,” Tortorella said. “They’ve got a great player in Gregory. He’s as good as anybody in the league and they get him the ball a million different ways. They’re playing good defense and are creating turnovers and are now starting to run the ball better the last three weeks, which is complementing their play action and helping their defense obviously.”

Although this year’s Edinboro team is a lot different than last year’s, a recent history lesson can explain why Tortorella knows the Fighting Scots will be a tough out. In 2018, IUP had to fight and claw to beat Edinboro, 13-6.

That point total is the lowest by an IUP team in a victory since 1999, when this year’s seniors were still toddlers.

Come Saturday, the 20 Crimson Hawks playing their last regular-season home game will look to end things with a much more impressive victory, and that would certainly be a welcomed thing for a team that has big plans for the playoffs.

“This group understands what they’ve done up to this point,” Tortorella said, “but they still have a lot left to do.”