INDIANA – If you listened closely, you could hear the winds that were whipping around Frank Cignetti Field on Saturday laughing at California University‘s football team.
The gusts played some mean tricks on the Vulcans, changing the direction of punts, interrupting the flight of the football on pass plays and seemingly taking the side of Cal‘s heated rival.
The question now is whether Cal’s postseason chances were whisked away on this sunny Saturday afternoon.
Indiana staged a second-half comeback, outscoring California by 14 points to come away with a 17-6 victory in a PSAC West game.
Indiana, which plays Slippery Rock next weekend, got two touchdown passes from quarterback Quinton Maxwell and the Crimson Hawks seem to be able to navigate the wind patterns better to pick up the key victory over California in the annual Coal Bowl.
“We had the wind for two quarters and they had it for two quarters,” said Cal head coach Gary Dunn. “I think the two key things in the game were field position and the wind.”
The Vulcans fell to 1-1 in the conference and 3-2 overall. Indiana did nothing to hurt its No. 19 ranking in NCAA Division II as it moved to 5-0 overall.
Making the Division II playoffs is hard enough with one loss. Two losses seem to be a fatal blow.
“I really think the difference was when we go in the red zone, we hurt ourselves with penalties. We got two field goals and (missed) another. We just have to be able to score touchdowns if you want to beat a team like that,” said Dunn. “We had opportunities and just couldn’t make the plays.”
So the Vulcans ended up with two field goals from Keaton Hier, one in the first quarter and one in the fourth, and it’s hard to win that way.
Maxwell connected with Duane Brown twice in the second half, placing a beautiful 60-yard pass into the receiver’s hands that appeared to gain a couple extra feet thanks to the tail wind.
The second one was held up in the wind and Brown made a nice catch to give Indiana an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter.
“The wind usually blows the other way here,” said IUP head coach Paul Tortorella. “It showed on the deep pass (to Brown). It was down wind and he just laid it up there and the wind took it. We outran their secondary.”
Maxwell completed 15 of 31 passes for a whopping 313 yards. Brown and Coal Bowl MVP JoJo Gause combined for 9 receptions for 255 yards.
Mitchell completed 14 of 28 passes for just 95 yards.
“We beat ourselves,” said Mitchell. “We let things get into out heads, rushed and pressed with a lot of stuff. ... We knew we needed more than three points.”
Cal did its damage on the ground with tailback Nelson Brown rushing for 114 yards on 21 carries. But he did not get into the end zone.
“It was a little windy so I thought our ground game would help a lot,” said Brown.
Cal used an opportunistic defense and a run heavy offense to carve out a 3-0 halftime lead.
Hier capped a 14-play, 58-yard drive with a 28-yard field goal with 3:23 remaining in the first quarter.
Cal drove down again in the second quarter but a 24-yard field goal attempt by Hier was carried wide right by the strong wind.
Indiana drove down to the Cal 7-yard line with 1:26 left in the half but a 24-yard field goal attempt by Dylan Sarka was blocked by Jermal Martin Jr.
Brown had 14 carries for 85 yards, part of Cal’s 132 rushing yards. Mitchell, not known for his running, hurt IUP with four carries for 37 yards.
Cal’s defense kept IUP’s offense in check, holding the Crimson Hawks to 137 total and just 28 rushing. Linebacker Julian Cox produced the only turnover of the game with a second-half interception. That set up a field goal, not a touchdown.
“It’s a little discouraging but I have 100 percent faith in this team,” Cox said. “This is a learning experience for us.”