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IUP football will look to start its season off strong Saturday.

The wait is over.

After not seeing competition for 656 consecutive days, the IUP football team will make its long-awaited return to the field at George P. Miller Stadium on Saturday. The Crimson Hawks certainly do not have a cupcake opponent coming to town for the 2021 home opener; IUP’s first home game since Nov. 23, 2019.

Ranked in the top 25 in a pair of preseason polls, IUP opens its 10-game regular season against another nationally ranked team, the Kutztown Golden Bears, in a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) crossover game.

IUP enters the game ranked No. 17 in the American Football Coaches Association preseason poll and No. 20 in the D2Football media poll. Similarly, Kutztown is ranked in the top 20 in both polls, and the Golden Bears figure to present a challenge to the Crimson Hawks.

This will be the first of five home games for the Crimson Hawks, and one of the team’s most colossal matchups this fall.

IUP was picked second in the PSAC West Division coaches’ preseason poll announced in August, but the Crimson Hawks garnered three votes from the coaches in the division to narrowly finish second. Slippery Rock earned four votes and was tabbed the preseason favorite to win the PSAC West.

IUP and Slippery Rock will clash on Oct. 16 in a game that figures to go a long way in determining the division champion.

Before that, IUP has to get past a pair of ranked opponents in the first two weeks of the season. After Kutztown leaves town, the Crimson Hawks will welcome Shepherd, the favorite to win the PSAC East this year after receiving six of the eight votes in the preseason coaches’ poll.

Kutztown is the defending PSAC East champion, having won the division title in 2019. The Golden Bears have unassumingly been one of the most successful teams in the entire PSAC since 2014, having put together six winning seasons and a 48-20 record.

Meanwhile, IUP is coming off a 10-2 season in 2019, in which the Crimson Hawks were bounced from the NCAA Division II playoffs in the first round.

With plenty of returning talent, this season’s potential of success at a national scale is within grasp. IUP brings back three Lindy’s Preseason All-America selections in wide receiver Duane Brown (redshirt junior, sports administration), defensive back Nazir Streater (redshirt senior, business management) and hulking lineman Josh Dauberman (senior, criminology).

At six-foot-five, 315 pounds, Dauberman is the leader of IUP’s offensive line, which has traditionally been among the best in the PSAC and the Crimson Hawks hope to maintain that lofty standard.

A big-play threat every time he touches the ball, Brown caught 47 passes in 2019, leading the team in both receiving yards (937) and receiving touchdowns (13). Add in his rushing yards – he was a running back in high school – and Brown accounted for 1,179 all-purpose yards and 19 touchdowns.

At quarterback, the Crimson Hawks have replaced one graduate transfer with another. Harry Woodbery, a six-foot-two, 195-pound transfer from Eastern Illinois is expected to start behind center, as did Quinton Maxwell in 2019 after transferring from Ohio University.

On the defensive side, the new-look Crimson Hawks return just three starters from 2019, but they expect to have another solid squad with seasoned defensive back and returner Streater leading the pack. He led the team in interceptions in 2019 and held his own in the kick return game, averaging 27.1 yards per return.

Paul Tortorella enters his fifth season as IUP’s head coach and is off to the best start of any head coach in program history. That is quite a respectable accolade considering the long history of success of a program that has built a 578-272-23 (.675) all-time record.

Tortorella reached 30 wins faster than any other IUP coach, including College Football Hall of Famer Frank Cignetti (1985-2005). The Hawks have tallied a 31-6 (.838) overall record under Tortorella’s command.

IUP leads the all-time series against Kutztown 5-2, but the Golden Bears won the most recent meeting in 2015, nipping the Crimson Hawks by a point, 34-33.

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