ERIE — It turns out that Harry Woodbery was worth the wait.
Woodbery, IUP’s newest Division I transfer quarterback, made his Crimson Hawks debut on Saturday and had a day to remember in his team’s 48-13 drubbing of Mercyhurst.
Woodbery completed 15 of 22 attempts for 146 yards, numbers that don’t jump off the page. But four of his 15 completions went for touchdowns, and on his only rushing attempt, he also reached the end zone.
“Harry did a wonderful job coming in for his first game,” said tight end Cam Suman, who caught Woodbery’s first touchdown, a 7-yard strike in the first quarter. “He was calm and collected and he had everyone on the same page. You can tell that’s what kind of leader he is.”
Woodbery, a native of The Woodlands, Texas, transferred to IUP over the summer from Division I FCS Eastern Illinois. But just as he was about to be anointed the starter in the week leading up to the Sept. 11 opener against Kutztown, he ended up in COVID quarantine and couldn’t be with his team until Sept. 18, when he was dressed, but inactive, against Shepherd.
Javon Davis started in Woodbery’s place and did well enough to stake his claim to the starting job. But IUP head coach Paul Tortorella opened up the competition in the week leading up to the trip to Mercyhurst, and Woodbery emerged as the winner — although he wasn’t told until a few hours before kickoff.
Despite not knowing until Saturday morning that he would start, Woodbery came out with the hot hand and led the Crimson Hawks to a fast start. He completed his first six passes, two of which went for touchdowns, to Suman and Grant Smith (13 yards), and by the time he finally threw incomplete, IUP led 28-7 and had firm control of the game.
“The first half he was awesome,” Tortorella said. “He didn’t miss many throws. A couple times they covered us well. But I think the only bad pass he had was a deep one where he overthrew Irvin (Charles). If that’s the worst pass of his day, then he had a pretty good day.”
Woodbery connected with Charles on a pretty 11-yard TD on a fade route in the second quarter to put IUP ahead 35-10.
The Crimson Hawks took the air out of the game when they assumed a 35-13 halftime lead. In the second half, Woodbery threw only seven passes, but he completed three, including a 6-yard touchdown pass to Hilton Ridley.
“It felt great to be out there with those guys,” Woodbery said. “It’s a great group of guys. To be out there with them and help them win was a great feeling.”
BIG PLAY: IUP got on the board first when Suman broke through the line on a Mercyhurst punt and knocked down Brian Alsobrooks’ kick. The ball bounced right back to Suman, who picked it up and ran 7 yards for a touchdown, just 99 seconds into the game.
“I got loose and put my hand up there and I felt it hit me,” he said. “Then I looked down and there was the ball and I took it and ran. It was awesome.”
The special teams touchdown gave IUP a 7-0 lead before Woodbery had even taken the field.
“It gives you confidence when you go out there,” Woodbery said. “But we talked on the sideline like, ‘it’s zero-zero. Let’s go score.’”
BIG DAY: Tortorella has been saying for a while that IUP’s tight ends must be bigger pieces of the offense. Against Mercyhurst, they were a huge part.
In addition to Suman returning his blocked punt for a score, he caught a scoring pass from Woodbery, as did Smith, a fellow tight end. Their three combined catches (Smith had two) were as many as all IUP’s tight ends had caught in the first two games.
“Big targets. Big chests. Big hands,” Woodbery said. “Get open, get the ball. That’s how it works.”
Tortorella wants the tight ends more involved because he doesn’t want defenses focusing too much on receivers like Duane Brown and Charles.
“Obviously, everyone knows about Irvin and Duane,” he said. “We have to get Grant Smith more involved. If we get one-on-one coverage on Irvin or Duane, we’re going to take it. But teams are going to start rolling up on both sides and doubling over the top, and that leaves the middle wide open.”
NOTES: The IUP defense shut out Mercyhurst in the second half for the fourth time in a row. The Lakers have not scored a second-half point vs. IUP since 2016. … True freshman Darius Bruce, making his first career start at defensive back, led IUP with nine tackles. Defensive end Vaughn Wallace had two sacks. Bryce Gibson and Sean McCaskill Jr. had interceptions. … Brown (shoulder) did not play, but Tortorella said he should be back this week as IUP prepares to play host Gannon (2 p.m.) for homecoming. … IUP has beaten Gannon five straight times.