By Evan McCue
For the first time in weeks, the IUP football team was faced with adversity and hardship Saturday afternoon in its final divisional game against Mercyhurst University.
Following a 69-yard touchdown pass to Walt Pegues (junior, communications media) on the opening drive of the game, quarterback Lenny Williams (redshirt sophomore, accounting) was taken down awkwardly on a sack and suffered a knee injury that kept him out for the remainder of the game.
The Crimson Hawks had the ensuing punt blocked, which was shortly followed by a 37-yard touchdown pass and, just like that, No. 11 IUP was down, 14-7, to a 2-7 Mercyhurst team that was playing like they had nothing to lose.
Now, all eyes were on backup quarterback Mike Pietropola (sophomore, education) to come in and run the team’s explosive offense.
His first drive was nearly identical to the opening drive of the game that was capped off with an 84-yard touchdown pass to Pegues, who had three catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter alone.
The story of the second quarter for IUP’s offense was the success of the run game, as coach Curt Cignetti called upon the experienced Chris Temple (junior, accounting) to take over with Williams sidelined with an injury.
Temple ripped off an electrifying 39-yard touchdown run, making Mercyhurst defenders miss in the process of giving IUP a 21-14 lead.
After a field goal from Mercyhurst late in the second quarter, the teams headed into the locker room with IUP up, 21-17.
Now that the Crimson Hawks had a lead at the half, it was the defense’s turn to step up with its quarterback on the bench and the offense not at full strength.
They did just that, allowing only three points in what had become a defensively concentrated second half. Mercyhurst had possession with less than three minutes left in the game and were trailing, 24-20, until veteran IUP linebacker Kevin Clarke (redshirt senior, sports administration) came up with a huge interception return for a 30-yard touchdown that basically sealed the deal, as the Crimson Hawks were able to avoid an ugly loss.
“I just feel like whenever it’s time to make a big play, I just kind of take pride in trying to make that happen for my team,” Clarke said after the game.
Pietropola finished the day with six completions on 16 attempts for 138 yards with a touchdown and an interception, all the while receiving some valuable reps with the first-team offense, as he may be counted upon after Williams’ injury which, according to Cignetti, “doesn’t look good.”
The Crimson Hawks will most likely be without Williams in this week’s game against Bloomsburg University (6-4, 4-3) at 1 p.m. Saturday at George P. Miller Stadium.