Story and photo courtesy of Indiana (Pa.) Athletics
ERIE, Pa. - With a Johnny Franco (Altoona/Tyrone) interception on the final play of the game, 14th-ranked IUP locked up the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) West Division title with a thrilling 38-35 victory at Gannon on Saturday afternoon.
With the win and the 40-7 Mercyhurst win over California, the Crimson Hawks will host Shippensburg in the 2012 PSAC Football Championship on Saturday, November 10 at 2:05 p.m.
The pick on the final play was the second of two interceptions by Franco in the game's final 1:19, as the Crimson Hawks (9-1, 6-1) held off two late Gannon (2-8, 1-6) scoring threats to hold on for the victory.
The wild game included eight lead changes, with the last being a two-yard touchdown run on fourth down by De'Antwan Williams (Woodbridge, VA/Woodbridge) with 3:16 remaining in the fourth quarter to help give IUP a three-point lead. The scoring drive, which began at the Crimson Hawks own 35-yard line with 7:35 on the clock, featured a heavy dose of Williams as he ran four times for nine yards and caught three of passes for 38 yards.
Quarterback Mike Box (Lawrenceville, GA/Collins Hill) found Williams on the opening play for a 22-yard game and threw to him again the following play, which resulted in just two yards. However a facemask penalty on Gannon moved the ball to the Golden Knights 26-yard line with IUP trailing 35-31. Two plays later Williams caught another pass for 14 yards to the Gannon 11 before three straight run plays made it fourth down at one at the two-yard line. That's where Williams would punch it in and with Brett Ullman (Baltimore, MD/Perry Hall)'s extra point the Crimson Hawks took a 38-35 lead.
With three timeouts left, Gannon was not finished. Quarterback Liam Nadler used his legs on a third-and-three to convert a key first down and move the ball to the Gannon 38. His next pass would fall incomplete and on second down Akeem Smith (Philadelphia/Frankford) came up with a huge sack to push the Golden Knights back to their own 31-yard line with 1:40 remaining. On third-and-17, Nadler's pass was nearly intercepted by Jerrell McFadden (Manassas, VA/Osbourn) but on the very next play Franco got his hands on the ball and raced 32 yards into Gannon territory with 1:19 left on the clock.
Gannon still owned a pair of timeouts and even with IUP running down the clock for four straight plays, the Golden Knights regained possession at their own 25-yard line with 20 seconds remaining. After a few plays put the ball at the Gannon 46 with a few seconds remaining, one last heave by Nadler came up short as Franco got his second pick, sealing the victory.
Both teams combined for six scores in the second half, including five touchdowns, as Gannon erased a 20-14 halftime deficit to quickly take a 21-20 lead on its first drive of the third quarter.
IUP answered back with a 12-play, 51-yard drive that resulted in an Ullman 38-yard field goal to put the Crimson Hawks back on top 23-21 with 7:27 to play in the third. Two more scores came in the quarter, the first being a 10-yard run by Gannon's Jansen Jones that gave the Golden Knights a 28-23 lead just four minutes later.
It didn't take long for the Crimson Hawks to get back on top, as a 29-yard run by Williams and a five-yard scamper by Box followed by a Gannon personal foul gave IUP the ball at the Golden Knights 15-yard line. Two plays later Box found Dom Maggio (Pittsburgh/Central Catholic) out of the backfield for a 13-yard touchdown to go on top 29-28. Attempting the two-point conversion, Box again connected, this time with Tyler Dummermuth (New Philadelphia, OH/New Philadelphia) to give IUP a 31-28 lead.
It appeared as though the momentum would stay with IUP, as the defense forced a Gannon punt on the next drive and the offense took over at its own 34 with 13:38 remaining. A 37-yard hook up from Box to Pat Brewer (Coatesville/Coatesville) got the ball into Gannon territory and would set up a 45-yard field goal attempt by Ullman but the kick would sail left, keeping the Golden Knights would three points with 10:59 to play.
Two penalties by IUP on the ensuing Gannon drive helped put the ball at the Crimson Hawks 13-yard line where Nadler connected with Abraham Ocasio for a third down touchdown pass to help put the Golden Knights on top by three and set up the final seven minutes of action.
IUP finished with 401 yards of total offense, including 230 on the ground. Williams led the way with 28 carries for 126 yards and a touchdown, doing most of the work after Harvie Tuck (Akron, OH/St. Vincent-St. Mary) left in the first half with an injury. He also caught five passes for 47 yards. Tuck carried the ball seven times for 47 yards and caught a pass for six more.
Box went 13-of-18 for 171 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Dummermuth had three receptions for 33 yards and a score while Terrill Barnes (Gettysburg/Gettysburg) had a catch for 27 yards.
Nadler finished 14-of-26 for 238 yards and four touchdowns for Gannon. Unfortunately for the Golden Knights he threw three interceptions and was sacked three times. Ocasio caught six passes for 108 yards and two scores while Justin Caliste had four receptions for 73 and a score. Jansen Jones also caught a touchdown pass in addition to running 26 times for 94 yards and another score on the ground.
Both teams combined for 18 penalties, as IUP committed 12 for 108 yards.
Brewer got the scoring underway in the first quarter with a 41-yard touchdown run on a reverse but Gannon quickly answered with a Nadler to Caliste 30 yard touchdown pass five minutes later. IUP made it a 20-7 lead early in the second when Dummermuth caught a 16-yard scoring strike from Box followed by an eight-yard interception return for a score by Terrell Holloway (Penn Hills/Penn Hills) 1:09 later. Gannon answered with a 10 play drive at the end of the half, scoring on a Nadler pass to Jones with 30 seconds remaining to make it 20-14.
This will be IUP's first appearance in the PSAC championship game since defeating West Chester 21-9 in the 1987 title game. It's also the program's first PSAC West title since 2006 and 17th overall.
Shippensburg won the PSAC East with a perfect 7-0 mark and will enter the game with a 10-0 overall record on the season and ranked in the top 10 in the nation.
Both schools will also have NCAA Division II playoff positions on the line, as Shippensburg is currently first in Super Region One while IUP is in the sixth and final spot.
Kickoff from George P. Miller Stadium on Saturday is set for 2:05 p.m.