Double trouble for IUP defense

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It is tough enough to stop a team that has one good quarterback, but IUP has a doubly difficult task in store this afternoon against New Haven in an NCAA Division II playoff game.

Two quarterbacks have played significant roles for undefeated New Haven, champions of the Northeast 10 Conference. Each brings a different skill set to the position.

IUP (11-1) will play the Chargers (10-0) at noon today in a second-round game at DellaCamera Stadium in West Haven, Conn. The winner will advance to the East regional final and will play the winner of Shippensburg vs. Winston-Salem State. The Chargers, the No. 2 seed in the region, received a first-round bye. The third-seeded Crimson Hawks defeated Shepherd in the first round last week.

New Haven features quarterbacks Ryan Osiecki and Ronnie Nelson, who have proven they are capable of leading scoring drives.

Osiecki is a traditional drop-back passer and has thrown for 1,356 yards and 14 touchdowns. He played in just six games because of an injury.

But the Chargers didn't miss a beat when Osiecki went down because Nelson, who is more of a runner, stepped in and has thrown for 987 yards and 18 touchdowns while rushing 64 times for 256 yards. He has three rushing touchdowns.

Crimson Hawks coach Curt Cignetti said that recognition of who is in the game will be a key factor in controlling the New Haven offense..

"A lot of times, these two-quarterback teams aren't as efficient as they could be just because they are switching guys in and out and that hurts your rhythm, but New Haven has been fantastic at it and the proof is in their results," Cignetti said. "They are averaging more than 40 points a game and nobody has been able to really contain their offense.

"The key, to me, is making sure we are aware of which guy is in the game and what that means in terms of the things they are going to do. When [Osiecki] plays, they are a more traditional drop-back passing kind of team and will take those vertical shots down the field and [Nelson] is more of a shotgun quarterback-run player."

Cignetti said another strength of New Haven is that the Chargers are an experienced team that feature 16 senior starters who have played in a lot of games the past two years and know how to win.

For IUP, which features one of the nation's top defenses (No. 1 in Division II in total defense and No. 2 in scoring defense), the bigger challenge than playing the game itself might have been preparation. IUP's schedule this week had to be altered because of Thanksgiving, as well as the 9-hour bus ride to New Haven.

Cignetti held the team for a shorter practice and film session Thursday morning, then let them enjoy Thanksgiving with their families. Friday morning, they were scheduled for a quick walkthrough at their own facility and then boarded a bus about noon to head to Connecticut.

"Really it was like trying to do it with a day and a half, almost two days less preparation than we normally have, but that's all part of it and you just adjust," Cignetti said. "These things aren't going to matter once the game starts, then it is about just going out and playing well.

"I think we have done a good job of focusing each week on the opponent and the game plan and I'd expect nothing less this week despite some of the difference in the schedule."

IUP and New Haven have met eight times and the Crimson Hawks hold a 5-3 edge in the series, though the two teams haven't played since 2003.

In 1993, the two teams met in the second round of the playoffs and IUP won, 38-35, in a game that is regarded as one of the best and most exciting wins in IUP history.


Paul Zeise: and Twitter: @paulzeise.


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