INDIANA, Pa. -- IUP's offensive strategy was simple and effective -- pound the defense with a relentless running attack, even though Shepherd entered with the stingiest defense in Division II against the run.
"We kept grinding, doing what we always do," said senior halfback De'Antwan Williams, who carried 30 times for 152 yards and a touchdown to lead IUP to a 27-17 victory against visiting Shepherd Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs at George Miller Stadium. "It was rough. We kept pushing."
For the most part, Shepherd pushed back. But Williams, a 5-foot-7, 195-pounder who transferred from Rutgers this season, squirted free for runs of 27, 26 and 21 yards against a defense stacked to stop the run. Shepherd (8-3) had allowed just 37.6 yards rushing per game en route to the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship.
"We stopped them, they'd get a long one, we stopped them and they'd get a long one," Shepherd tackle Xavier Tyler said. "I thought we stopped them ... most of the time."
IUP (11-1), seeded No. 3 in Super Region One, advanced to the second round and will play at No. 1 New Haven (10-0) Saturday. New Haven had a bye in the first round.
"We were challenged by the best running attack we've seen," Shepherd coach Monte Cater said of the Crimson Hawks, who rushed for 203 yards. "They kept the football. When they needed to have it, they made it. They got some big plays."
IUP coach Curt Cignetti thought the biggest play came after Shepherd grabbed a 17-14 lead midway through the third quarter and appeared to have taken control of the game.
"We went backwards on offense, and they looked like they had cranked it up," Cignetti said. "The drive that [Tyler] Dummermuth caught the pass on was the big play. That gave us back the momentum."
Dummermuth's 24-yard reception from Mike Box carried to Shepherd's 32 and, seven plays later, Williams scored on a 5-yard run to give IUP a 21-17 lead. The drive was aided by a personal foul on one of the calls that Cater questioned. The other that drew his ire came when the officials ruled a Shepherd receiver came down out of bounds on what would have been a touchdown catch.
"If I could have had a red flag, I would have thrown it," he said, referring to NFL procedures.
IUP capitalized on two interceptions and a fumble recovery to score 17 points. Linebacker Carl Fleming returned an interception 77 yards in the second quarter to give IUP a 14-7 lead. Shepherd quarterback Bobby Cooper threw an ill-advised pass while in the grasp of a defender, and Fleming was alone when he caught it and raced untouched for the score.
"I was just in the right place at the right time," said Fleming, who returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown in a 41-17 victory against Shippensburg in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championship last week. "He just threw it up for grabs."
Cooper, who ran for two touchdowns, also was intercepted by Alexander Berdahl on Shepherd's 16. IUP got a 31-yard field goal from Brett Ullman to close the scoring at 27-17 with 9:11 remaining.
"Those are two plays that decided the outcome," Cooper said of his interceptions. "I should have thrown both away."