IUP holds on to beat Assumption, advances to D2 football semifinals
When Assumption quarterback Cody Williams lofted a Hail Mary pass toward the end zone on the final play of Saturday's Division II Super Region One championship at Miller Stadium, everyone in the attendance stood and watched.
When IUP defensive back John McDonald-Horner knocked down the pass intended for Ashton Grant, IUP players celebrated, fans erupted and the Assumption players fell to the turf in disbelief.
IUP held off a last minute drive to defeat Assumption, 27-22, and advance to the NCAA semifinals against West Florida at home at noon Saturday. It is IUP's first trip to the national semifinals since 1993.
“The ball seemed to float in the air forever,” IUP defensive back Takhi Turner said. “I didn't know what to expect, but I had confidence with the people on the field. When I saw the ball hit the turf, it brought joy and I never had a better feeling before.”
Moments before the final play, it was the Assumption players who were celebrating what they thought was a winning score when Williams scrambled out of the pocket and launched a 44-yard score to Grant.
But as Williams scrambled up the field, he crossed the line of scrimmage and was flagged for an illegal forward pass.
“When he broke free, I thought he was going to run for 20 yards,” IUP coach Paul Tortorella said. “When I saw he was passed the line of scrimmage by a good 2 yards and the official threw the flag, I didn't care what happened. I knew it was coming back.”
Williams said he thought he hadn't crossed the line but had confidence they still had a chance to score.
The last-minute drive came after IUP put together a 6 minute, 10 second drive to take the lead. It was freshman Duane Brown scoring from the 1 with 1:09 left to cap a 13-play, 76-yard drive.
“I told them that we could not settle for a field goal. We had to score,” Tortorella said. “Our team is built for December football.”
IUP (13-0) rushed for 340 yards, led by freshman Justice Evans, who rushed for 167 yards on 21 carries. Brown, who scored two touchdowns, and sophomore Samir Bullock, who scored once, each rushed for 59 yards. Junior quarterback Lenny Williams added 55 yards rushing.
“With our line, we tend to where down defenses,” Tortorella said. “Turnovers and penalties slowed us down in the first half.”
IUP won despite turning the ball over four times and giving up an onsides kick in the first half. Lenny Williams was intercepted three times, including one that was returned 35 yards for a score by Joe Kim in the second quarter.
The Crimson Hawk defense also forced Assumption (11-2) to kick three field goals when the Greyhounds got inside IUP's 5.
“Forcing them to kick field goals won this game,” Tortorella said. “That was a great football game.
“Assumption really didn't deserve to lose as hard as it played, and we refused to lose. We just wouldn't be denied. Our guys wouldn't let us lose.”
IUP, despite its woes in the first half, took a 14-13 lead into halftime as Bullock scored from the 1 and Williams connected on a 25-yard strike to Chris Wuestner.
Right before halftime, Williams had a pass deflect off a receiver's fingers and to Assumption's Andrew Benson at the 4.
Assumption wide receiver Deonte Harris had six catches for 66 yards, all in the first half. He didn't catch a pass in the second half.
“Settling for field goals inside the 5 came back to hurt us,” Assumption coach Bob Chesney said. “IUP just has too much speed and power. It was tough slowing them down.”
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.