When Adam Houser signed with IUP out of high school, Crimson Hawks coach Paul Tortorella said he was just as impressed with the running back’s brain as he was with his legs.
A high-achieving student at Shippensburg High School, Houser was coming to IUP with a scholarship to the Cook Honors College. He had high test scores and offers from many other teams, which was just as impressive as his nearly 4,000 career rushing yards in high school.
While Houser filled in for the injured Dayjure Stewart on Saturday in IUP’s 24-21 win over Shepherd in the PSAC championship game, his decision-making was just as important as his game-high 142 rushing yards.
The Crimson Hawks had the ball at the Rams’ 49-yard line with 1:42 left to play and everyone in the stadium knew IUP was going to run the ball to milk the clock.
After no gain on first down, Shepherd called its final timeout. On the next play, Houser followed the blocks of right guard Gerald Comedy and right tackle McLean Djouha, saw green space ahead of him and took off toward the end zone.
This is when Houser’s football intelligence went on display.
He could have crossed the goal line to give IUP an even bigger lead, but Houser didn’t. Instead, he intentionally fell at the 8-yard line, meaning IUP could kneel on the ball on the next play to let the clock run out.
“I knew after they called their last timeout that a first down ends the game,” Houser said. “There’s no point in scoring to give him the ball back. You know, if we want to win, let’s win with the ball in our hands.”
And that’s what IUP did. Once the clock restarted when the chains were set, quarterback Mak Sexton took a knee twice and time ran out for the Rams.
Afterward, Tortorella marveled at Houser’s quick thinking.
“We didn’t even bring that up because we didn’t think we were going to break one for a touchdown,” he said. “We thought if we didn’t get (a first down), we would punt and leave them about 12 seconds left.”
Houser’s decision to not score a touchdown was the exclamation point on a stellar afternoon. Stewart, the starter, suffered a knee injury on IUP’s second possession, and Houser was told he would have to shoulder the load.
Did he ever. Houser totaled 142 yards on just 21 carries and was effective enough to keep the Shepherd defense off balance, as they worried about Sexton and the IUP passing attack.
Until Saturday, the story of Houser’s career had been injuries. In the past two seasons, he played in only a handful of games because of various ailments, but on the biggest stage of the season, he came through when his team needed him the most.
“I’m so appreciative of the opportunity,” Houser said. “I couldn’t do anything without my O-line. One thing that we preach is just ‘next man up.’ It takes all 11 on the field. I’m the happiest man in the world right now. I just love my team, I’m just so happy for my team that we’re able to come out with the ‘W’.”
INJURY UPDATE: Stewart, who entered the game with a team-leading 756 rushing yards, left the game after taking a hit to his left knee from Shepherd’s Donte Harrison.
It looked bad from the start. Stewart screamed in pain while lying on the ground. But after being checked out by trainers and team doctors, Stewart walked around the sideline, but he didn’t return to the game.
“It looked bad at first,” Tortorella said, “but (head trainer Mark Wolfe) said it’s not as bad as we first thought.”
That’s good news that could have been bad, considering the Crimson Hawks played without receiver Duane Brown, their biggest playmaker, and likely PSAC West Offensive Player of the Year.
Brown injured his knee last week against Clarion and didn’t practice at all in the week leading up to the Shepherd game. Tortorella said Brown was held out with hope his sprained knee would heal fast enough that he could play Saturday, but during Friday’s walk-through it was decided he could not go.
“It was getting better,” Tortorella said. “If we had another day, he probably could have played. But he hadn’t practiced all week and it would have been risky.”
Tortorella said he expects Brown to be back in practice this week and be ready for the playoffs.
STATE GAME CHAMPS: The PSAC revived its championship game in 2008, and since then IUP has played in it three times –– and won all three, all five years apart.
IUP beat Shippensburg in 2012 and West Chester in 2017, both convincing wins. Shippensburg was heavily favored because of its high-powered offense, and the Crimson Hawks held the Raiders to just 10 points in a 41-10 trouncing.
Tortorella said the win over Shepherd is similar to the Shippensburg game because of the caliber of the opposing offense, but the latest title game win is the most impressive of the three.
“It’s very similar to the one in 2012 because of the (statistics),” he said. “Now, that was 10 years ago, but (Shepherd) was a lot better than that Shippensburg team was.”
NOTES ON THE WIN: IUP’s 184 rushing yards is the highest total allowed all season by the Rams, who entered the game allowing just 75.8 yards per game, the third-best in the PSAC. … The win gives Tortorella a 47-10 career record, tying him with Chuck Klausing (1964-69) for the best career winning percentage in school history, at .825. … The seven all-time meetings between IUP and Shepherd have been decided by a total of 21 points. … Five of the seven were decided by seven points or fewer.