After a week to rest, the IUP Crimson Hawks are back to work.
Their reward for winning the PSAC championship on Nov. 13 was a first-round bye in the NCAA Division II playoffs and home-field advantage throughout the regional part of the tournament. And on Saturday they learned who their initial playoff opponent will be, when No. 4 Ashland beat No. 5 Notre Dame College in an all-Ohio first-round game, 20-13.
IUP (9-1) will host the Eagles (10-1) on Saturday at Miller Stadium. Todd Garzarelli, IUP’s director of athletics, said kickoff will likely be at 1 p.m., but the NCAA must approve that, and that decision wasn’t to come until this morning.
In other regional action Saturday, Shepherd edged New Haven, 16-13, and Slippery Rock beat Assumption, 17-14. Shepherd (11-1) will host Slippery Rock (10-2) this weekend in the other regional semifinal. The winner will meet the Ashland-IUP winner on Dec. 3 at the home of the highest remaining seed for the regional title and a berth in the national semifinals.
Ashland is the champion of the Great Midwest Athletic Conference, which is quite an accomplishment because this was only the second full season the Eagles played in the conference after moving over from the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 2020.
Saturday’s win over Notre Dame was Ashland’s second of the season against the Falcons, who are no stranger to the playoffs, having advanced to the tournament four consecutive years. The Eagles opened the season by beating Notre Dame, 31-14. After that, Ashland beat Findlay, Quincy, Northwood, Walsh, Ohio Dominican and Tiffin before losing to Hillsdale. They then finished the regular season with wins over Lake Erie and Kentucky Wesleyan.
IUP and Ashland have played twice since Paul Tortorella became IUP’s head coach in 2017, with the Crimson Hawks winning both. IUP won the 2017 season opener at home, 26-23, on Dillon Sarka’s 47-yard field goal as time expired. The next year, the Crimson Hawks escaped Ashland with a 21-17 win.
Tickets for Saturday’s game went on sale today at the KCAC box office. Current IUP students can get a free ticket, compliments of the IUP Co-op Store, but they must get the ticket in advance. No complimentary tickets will be given at the gate.
Also, Saturday’s IUP men’s basketball game against New Haven has been moved to 4:30 p.m. Anyone with a ticket to the football game can use it for free admittance to the basketball game.
NOT THE END: Should Ashland lose to IUP, the Eagles’ next game will be against … IUP.
Should IUP lose to Ashland, IUP’s next game will be against … Ashland.
Over the summer, the Crimson Hawks and Eagles agreed to open the next four seasons with games against each other. It begins in 2023, when Ashland visits IUP over Labor Day weekend. IUP will visit Ashland in 2024 and 2026, while the Eagles will return to Indiana in 2025.
IUP TIES: There was a huge IUP influence in the New Haven-Shepherd game in the first round.
Tyler Haines was calling the offensive plays for Shepherd. Matt Scott was calling the defense for New Haven.
Haines was IUP’s offensive coordinator under Curt Cignetti for two seasons, in 2013 and 2014. He left after the second season to become the head coach at Urbana, a fellow Division II school in Ohio. But Urbana closed in the spring of 2020, and Haines was out of work. He landed at Division III Baldwin Wallace, where he was the defensive coordinator for two seasons before coming to Shepherd this spring.
Scott, a native of Imperial, played at IUP from 2004 to 2007. He was a three-time All-PSAC West selection, and he finished his IUP career with 162 tackles –– including 42 for a loss –– and eight sacks in 39 games. He had previous coaching stops at Albany and Susquehanna before becoming New Haven’s defensive coordinator in 2017.
AROUND THE BRACKET: In addition to Slippery Rock beating Assumption, two other visiting teams pulled off upsets over higher-seeded home teams in the first round. In Super Region Two, visiting Wingate pounded Virginia Union, 32-7, and in Super Region Three, Northwest Missouri State beat host Ouachita Baptist, 47-17.
Oddly enough, the three closest first-round games were all in Super Region One, with Ashland winning by seven and Shepherd and Slippery Rock winning by three apiece. Every other game in the first round was decided by 17 points or more, including blowout wins by Delta State (51-0 over Fayetteville State), Pittsburg State (35-0 over Indianapolis) and Ferris State (41-7 over Davenport).