McNelis' FG lifts IUP over Slippery Rock
Matt McNelis wasn't being specific about his past predicaments, saying only that he'd been here before.
The Indiana (Pa.) kicker calmly booted a 28-yard field goal as time expired Saturday night to lift the Crimson Hawks to a 34-31 victory over Slippery Rock in the teams' Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division opener.
Following three consecutive timeouts by Slippery Rock, which was hoping to rattle McNelis, the sophomore transfer from Lehigh finally got his chance and converted the game-winning kick to keep IUP (4-0, 1-0) unbeaten.
Asked if he had become nervous by the time he was about to kick the ball, McNelis said, "No, no, I've been in that situation before."
The bitter college football rivalry between IUP and Slippery Rock was in top form amid a playoff atmosphere at N. Kerr Thompson Stadium in Slippery Rock.
The previously unbeaten teams waged a fierce competition before 9,775 at the PSAC's largest stadium with the outcome going down to the final second.
The winning points came 4 1/2 minutes after the IUP defense held Slippery Rock on fourth down at the IUP 41-yard line.
It was the second field goal of the game and second of the fourth quarter for McNelis, who is playing this year for the first time since the 2004 season and has been alternating with redshirt freshman Craig Burgess as IUP's kicker.
IUP coach Lou Tepper put his confidence in McNelis for the game-winning field goal.
"We work so hard on special teams," Tepper said. "If it was a 49-yarder, I would have been a little nervous. I just thought of it as an extra point and let's go out there and hit it."
The victory was the eighth in the past nine series meetings for IUP, ranked No. 22 in NCAA Division II by the American Football Coaches' Association. Slippery Rock derailed IUP's Division II Northeast Region playoff chances last season with a 21-17 victory at Indiana's Miller Stadium.
"I really it thought it would be lower-scoring than what it was," Tepper said of last night's game.
Added Slippery Rock redshirt senior quarterback Nate Crookshank: "We were anticipating a good game, and whether it was 17-14 or 34-31, that's the kind of game we expected. We just came up a little short."
IUP quarterback Andrew Krewatch (North Allegheny High School) threw three first-half touchdown strikes and finished with 310 yards passing.
It looked as though IUP could run away from Slippery Rock (4-1, 0-1) after taking a 21-7 lead in the first quarter, but a pair of short touchdown runs in the second quarter by Slippery Rock's Corey Manfull pulled the Rock even at halftime.
Manfull, who rushed for 99 first-half yards, did not play in the second half because of a bruised shoulder.
Slippery Rock trailed by a touchdown in the fourth quarter but tied the score at 31-31 on a 37-yard touchdown run by redshirt freshman Ryan Lehmeier (North Hills) with 8:46 left.
"You kind of had the thought that whoever had the ball last (was going to win)," Slippery Rock coach George Mihalik said.
IUP went in front on its first possession of the second half on a 1-yard touchdown run by Anthony Guerra, capping a short drive that lasted only 56 seconds.
C.J. Bahr's 29-yard field goal pulled Slippery Rock within 28-24 with 13:10 remaining in the fourth quarter.
McNelis hit a 42-yarder for IUP on the first possession of the fourth quarter to lift IUP to a 31-24 lead before Lehmeier pulled Slippery Rock even, running into the left side of the line and racing through a hole untouched into the end zone.
Krewatch, who completed 27 of 39 attempts, threw touchdown passes in the first half of 16 yards to Ken Witter, 10 yards to Garrett Lestochi and 50 yards to Mychal Skinner (Kiski Area).
Crookshank, who passed for 206 yards on 10-of-19 attempts, hit Paul Favors (Perry) with a 58-yard scoring pass to account for Slippery Rock's first score.
Manfull scored in the second quarter for Slippery Rock on runs of 1 and 2 yards before being taken for X-rays after being injured near the end of the first half.
IUP, which had won seven in a row in the series before losing to Slippery Rock last season, improved its series edge to 42-32-2.