IUP falls in Division II playoffs, 21-17
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Five yards from scoring the go-ahead touchdown in the waning seconds against the undefeated host team, Indiana (Pa.) had its season come to a disappointing end Saturday in the Division II quarterfinals.
Winston-Salem State kept IUP out of the end zone and held on for a 21-17 victory.
Three incompletions by quarterback Mike Box gave the ball back to Winston-Salem State (13-0) with 30 seconds remaining, ending the comeback for IUP (12-2).
“I thought we had a great season, and there's a lot of pride and character on this team,” IUP coach Curt Cignetti said. “We made a lot of people who love (IUP) football proud. And I feel really bad for our team and our seniors.”
Hurt by a Hail Mary touchdown pass on the final play of the first half, IUP trailed, 14-7, but capitalized on two Winston-Salem State turnovers in the third quarter to take a 17-14 lead into the fourth. It was just the second time all season Winston-Salem State had trailed in the fourth quarter.
With 3:51 left, however, Winston-Salem State regained the lead. Quarterback Kameron Smith, who came off the bench in the fourth quarter, hit fullback Ricky Rozier with a 1-yard touchdown pass for a 21-17 advantage.
IUP drove from its 25 to the Winston-Salem State 10 and had a second-and-goal from the 5. On the drive, the Crimson Hawks converted a fourth-and-5 when Box hit Terrill Barnes for 23 yards that put the ball at the Rams' 47.
“It was a tremendous drive with that fourth-down conversion,” Cignetti said. “But to single out those (final) two plays in this game ... there were so many big plays in this game.”
On IUP's final play, Box had his arm hit as he threw, and the ball fell harmlessly to the turf.
“As my arm was coming through, No. 44 (Carlos Fields) got a hold of it and didn't allow me to finish,” Box said.
IUP was trying to advance to the semifinals for the seventh time in school history.
Box, who was 16 of 36 for 236 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, said the Rams had a lot of team speed on defense.
“They had more speed than we've seen all season,” Box said. “We were prepared for it and had a good game plan going in, and I thought we could make a lot more plays in the passing game and expose the holes, and we did that for the most part. They played a great game defensively. It came down to the last play, and they were the last team standing, so you've got to give it to them.”
In the first half, Winston-Salem State led, 7-0, but IUP scored with 17 seconds left in the half to tie it when Barnes broke a tackle on a completion and went 36 yards for a touchdown. But the Rams took the momentum back by scoring on the final play of the half when Anthony Carrothers hit Kenny Patterson on a 55-yard Hail Mary pass.
“I thought we really had the momentum there,” Cignetti said about tying the score, 7-7. “I thought we could detect a little frustration with our opponent at that point. And then they made the play. At halftime, there was a lot of work done to make sure that (Hail Mary) play we could overcome mentally.”
John Dell is a freelance writer.