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If the first five weeks of the season were an example of Indiana University of Pennsylvania football at its best, then the last two might have been at its worst.
Aiming high after a deep playoff run in 2012, the Crimson Hawks overcame injuries and the infusion of many new players to start 5-0, with their most recent win a 62-3 blowout of Millersville, but IUP dropped its second consecutive game Saturday, struggling on all sides of the ball in an ugly 36-30 defeat at the hands of Edinboro University.
Through the first five weeks of the season, IUP put on display a top-ranked defense that served as the core to last year’s run to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championship, even with several new faces in the mix and notable contributors sidelined because of injuries.
The Hawks offense, featuring De’Antwan “The Rocket” Williams (senior, sociology) at running back, was also on point, but neither unit appeared close to its characteristically dominant form Saturday, having trouble throughout the day against the Fighting Scots.
Williams had a 17-yard score on a run where he was practically untouched and finished the game with 129 yards on the ground, but IUP’s explosive offense ultimately hurt itself, turning the ball over through the air on three occasions.
Quarterback Mike Box (senior, sociology), who came into the game with more interceptions this year than he had in all of 2012, had a pick and a fumble before being replaced by Logan Weaver (freshman, criminology), who also threw an interception. Wideout Terrill Barnes (senior, marketing) also fumbled the ball in the red zone.
At the end of the day, IUP’s offense was outgained 410 to 298 yards, although Barnes did post another promising outing with seven catches for 82 yards and a score.
Defensively, IUP had trouble shutting down the deep ball as was the case against Slippery Rock in Week 6.
Once ranked atop Division II in total and scoring defense, the Crimson Hawks allowed more than 30 points for the second straight week after giving up a combined 30 through the first five weeks.
Each of Jon Girvin’s three touchdown passes for Edinboro were more than 25 yards.
“I thought we came out and made some stops early on defense, and offensively we tried to establish the run game,” cornerback Jeremiah McPhearson (redshirt sophomore, criminology) said. “Unfortunately, they made some plays on the field and got a step ahead of us, and we just couldn’t catch up in time. The bottom line is they practice like we do, and you have to give credit to them. Their players and coaching staff outperformed our players and coaching staff.”
Saturday’s showdown started with some big plays by IUP, but before long, it was Edinboro that captured the edge. A blocked punt recovered by Tyler Dummermuth (senior, safety sciences) gave IUP the ball inside the Fighting Scots’ red zone on the first series of the day, but a fourth-down run by Israel Green (freshman, computer science) was stopped short and gave Edinboro possession.
IUP still put the first points on the board with two straight field goals by Brett Ullman (junior, management), but Girvin subsequently found receiver Jordan Williams for Edinboro’s first touchdown of the contest.
Edinboro’s extra point was blocked by defensive tackle Akeem Smith (senior, communications media), but it didn’t take long for the Fighting Scots to get back on the board.
On a Hawks punt by Matt Spegal (sophomore, geoscience), Darren Massey returned a block 19 yards for a touchdown, then scored again on a 75-yard reception from Girvin two drives later. Despite another missed extra point, IUP’s opponent took a 19-13 lead.
The Hawks kept themselves alive toward the end of the first half, with Williams’ scoring run reeling IUP closer to Edinboro.
After their own blocked punt forced by defensive back Terrell Holloway (senior, health and physical education), the Crimson Hawks actually claimed the lead, driving inside Fighting Scots territory and punching the ball into the end zone on a two-yard run by Williams.
From that point on, however, it was Edinboro that maintained an edge over the Hawks. A 39-yard field goal by T.J. Hardy put the Fighting Scots back on top. IUP managed to get into scoring range on a long punt return by Barnes, but he fumbled through the back of the end zone and Edinboro retained possession, proceeding to score again on a run by Jeremy Donaldson.
Briefly switching to Weaver at quarterback, IUP got back on the board with another field goal, but couldn’t swing the direction of the game in its favor after another turnover.
With 7:50 remaining in the game, IUP had the makings of a potential comeback, driving down the field after blocking a field goal and bringing the game within six after a connection from Box to Barnes, but on their final possession of the matchup, the Hawks once again turned the ball over.
With under three minutes to play, IUP had a final opportunity to get into the end zone and overtake Edinboro, but an interception by Box, who returned to the game after Weaver’s pick, sealed the Fighting Scots’ upset victory.
“Obviously, it’s a huge upset, but we started off slow,” Williams said. “I’m proud of our team; we never gave up, and we fought until the end.”
Now 5-2 on the season after their first two-game losing streak since 2011 under Coach Curt Cignetti, the Crimson Hawks will next travel to Erie to start a two-game road trip. IUP’s first away game will be against Mercyhurst University, and having lost two straight, there’s no telling how important coming away with a win could be for the Hawks.