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The IUP Crimson Hawks can ill afford to take any other team lightly. Even if that team has a 1-6 record.

No, when Edinboro comes to town Saturday to face the Crimson Hawks, IUP head coach Paul Tortorella expects his team will have a battle on its hands.

“They play everybody tough,” he said of the Fighting Scots, who, indeed have one win, but four of their six losses have come by eight points or less. “They’ve faced some adversity and lost some close games. They very easily could be 5-2 instead of 1-6.”

That might be a stretch. Maybe.

Tortorella is usually one to boost up the opponent out of fear his players won’t. But if you dive into Edinboro’s numbers, there are a lot of reasons to think the Fighting Scots have a fighting chance of knocking off the Crimson Hawks (5-2) at Miller Stadium.

Perhaps the biggest reason is because Tortorella knows the coach across the field and he knows what he’s capable of. Edinboro’s first-year coach is Jake Nulph, the 2001 Apollo-Ridge High School graduate who was an assistant for Tortorella at IUP in 2019.

Nulph spent only about nine months on Tortorella’s staff as defensive backs coach, and they knew each other only a little bit before working together. But the assistant made an impression on the head coach.

“I thought he was really sharp,” Tortorella said. “He’s on top of everything. He leaves no stone unturned. He’s very disciplined and he’s doing a great job up there.”

Nulph took over a once-proud program that had fallen on hard times. The Fighting Scots had five winning seasons in the past 10, and except for an unusual 9-2 season in 2016, they have not been a factor in the PSAC West race in more than a decade.

On paper, it may seem like Edinboro is not headed for greatness anytime this season, but it still can throw a wrench into IUP’s playoff hopes. In order to do that, the Fighting Scots will likely have to play good defense, which is something they have been doing all season.

Here’s some proof: California, which scored 38 points against IUP, scored only 20 on Edinboro and won by eight. The Fighting Scots have held three opponents to 27 or fewer points, which may not sound like much, but considering what offenses are capable of these days, isn’t too bad.

Also, Edinboro ranks in the top 25 nationally in defensive touchdowns, fewest penalties, punting and red zone defense, which shows that the Fighting Scots don’t do a lot to beat themselves.

“I mean, Edinboro will play their best game of the year against us,” Tortorella said.

IUP needs a win to stay in the NCAA Division II playoff race. The Crimson Hawks are No. 7 in the Super Region One rankings, which would give them the final playoff spot if the season ended today. And with remaining games against Seton Hill next week and West Chester after that, they cannot afford a third loss.

Tortorella hopes last week’s game will serve his team notice that when you have a team on the ropes, as the Crimson Hawks did against California, you have to deliver the knockout punch.

“Maybe we have to be that team that always plays with a chip on its shoulder,” he said. “Maybe we need to take the ‘us against the world’ mentality. Maybe that’s the team we’ve got to be because we can’t lose again.”