In control of its own playoff destiny, the Indiana University of Pennsylvania football team took one step closer to postseason contention by outlasting Gannon University en route to a 26-14 victory Saturday on Senior Day.
Quarterback Lenny Williams (freshman, accounting) broke free for a 64-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, and cornerback Jay Watkins (sophomore, kinesiology, health & sport science) intercepted a pass on the next possession to seal the game for the Crimson Hawks.
The victory gave IUP a share of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) West division title, its 16th all-time.
IUP does indeed get a share, but it also gets a new opponent next week in the form of winless Cheyney University (0-10).
West Chester University was the original opponent, but the Golden Rams will represent the PSAC East in the state game against Slippery Rock University.
Cheyney was supposed to play at Slippery Rock, but it will instead travel to Indiana.
“Next week we play Cheyney, and that’s another notch we have to get over so we can get to the playoffs,” linebacker Dorian Lane (senior, accounting) said. “It’s a great feeling to have the opportunity to play for that.”
On the field, IUP started the game strong and finished the day with 362 yards of offense.
Chris Temple (sophomore, accounting) ran for 142 yards and a touchdown, which came on the opening drive.
After a three-and-out by the Gannon offense, IUP struck again when Williams connected with sophomore wideout Walt Pegues (communications media) for a 54-yard score.
Kicker Ryan Stewart (junior, accounting) made two field goals (30 and 35 yards) to put the Crimson Hawks up 20-0 with just more than nine minutes to go in the second quarter.
Gannon did not go quietly, however, as it tallied two straight touchdowns, making the score 20-14 entering the fourth quarter.
IUP had multiple opportunities to expand its lead, but it was unable to capitalize on the favorable field position.
“We just had so many missed opportunities on offense, Jiminy Christmas,” head coach Curt Cignetti said. “I mean, it was unbelievable.”
Fumbles and missed field goals kept the pressure on the IUP defense, which stepped up once again.
“If we’re not doing good in one area, we expect another area to do good,” IUP senior defensive end Karon Gibson (nutrition) said. “Every time we go out there, it’s just like, next play, next drive, next series. The past doesn’t matter. We’re on to the future.”
IUP was ranked sixth in the latest Super Region One poll, and is poised to make the Division II playoffs for the first time since 2012.
The top nine teams in the region won on Saturday, so the Crimson Hawks need a win next week to have a realistic shot at the playoffs.
“We didn’t execute,” Cignetti said. “I mean, at the end of the day, it comes down to execution. It’s nice to win when you don’t necessarily play your best.”
Temple has 16 rushing touchdowns this season. He is only three touchdowns shy of tying the single season school record of 19, held by Michael Mann, who set the record in 1993.
IUP held running back Brock Jones, last year’s PSAC West Offensive Athlete of the Year, to just 63 yards of total offense.
Cheyney has not won more than one game in a football season since 2003.