THE TURNING POINT: Following a blocked field goal, Indiana drove 51 yards in 10 plays and 1:45 to score the game-winning points.
STAT OF THE GAME: While the game was tied at 23 in the second half, Ashland's defense kept the Crimson Hawks to just 29 yards in a 15-play span.
Kicker Dillon Sarka hit a 46-yard field goal as the last seconds of the game ticked away, giving No. 9-ranked Indiana, Pa., a 26-23 win over Ashland University's football team in the 2017 opener for both teams on Thursday (Aug. 31) night.
That field goal came after a potential go-ahead Eagle field goal by senior kicker Aidan Simenc from 32 yards away was blocked with 1:45 to play.
The Crimson Hawks went down the field on the first drive of the game, marching 77 yards in 13 plays. The Eagles turned in an impressive goal-line stand, however, and kept IUP to a 23-yard field goal.
Ashland responded to that with an 11-play, 64-yard drive on its own. The Eagles took a 6-3 lead following a four-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Travis Tarnowski to freshman tight end Michael Schweitzer.
After the AU defense forced a three-and-out, Tarnowski threw his second scoring pass of the first quarter, a 23-yard strike to junior wide receiver Kamaron Green. With 1:06 left in the opening stanza, the Eagles had a 13-3 advantage.
The Eagle "D" forced another three-and-out, and a 32-yard punt return by senior cornerback Dale Irby set up a 23-yard field goal off the foot of Simenc to increase the Ashland lead to 16-3 early in the second quarter.
IUP drove 78 yards in 11 plays on the ensuing possession to cut its deficit to 16-10, then went 75 yards to score another touchdown to take a 17-16 lead with 4:06 left until the halftime break.
Ashland's offense cranked it up again following another long Irby return, this one 52 yards on a kickoff. Tarnowski's third TD pass of the first half – a 15-yarder to Schweitzer – put the Eagles back on top at 23-17.
A 22-yard IUP field goal to end the first half left the Eagles with a 23-20 lead, then a 25-yarder with 9:47 to go in the third quarter knotted the game at 23.
Both defenses stepped up thereafter, and the score remained tied at 23 heading into the fourth quarter. Ashland allowed just 29 yards on the next 15 plays on the subsequent four IUP drives.
That led to a 12-play, 54-yard drive which, unfortunately for the Eagles, resulted in the blocked field goal. With 1:45 to go in regulation, the Crimson Hawks moved to the Eagle 29-yard line with four seconds remaining – setting up Sarka's heroics.
Tarnowski was 22-for-36 for 203 yards and three TDs, while Schweitzer caught seven passes for 57 yards and two scores. Junior tailback Andrew Vaughn ran a career-high 23 times for 89 yards.
Irby racked up 157 yards on five kickoff returns and 32 yards on two punt returns, while junior safety Isaiah Stiverson picked off a pass and forced a fumble. Senior cornerback Michael Griffin made a team-high 13 tackles.
For IUP, running back Samir Bullock ran for 200 yards on 25 carries, wide receiver Allen Wright grabbed nine passes for 102 yards and quarterback Lenny Williams Jr. was 22-for-38 for 230 yards and two scores.
UP NEXT: Ashland will open the 2017 home schedule on Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. against Ohio Dominican (0-1).