by Drae Smith
Host of "The Drae Smith Show" Thursdays 8am-10am
The Youngstown State football team had to battle the weather and a gritty Robert Morris team in their home opener this past Saturday night. The Penguins earned a tough 21-14 overtime victory in Bo Pelini’s home debut as head coach. The rain was heavy and fell consistently throughout the entire contest, causing problems for both teams.
YSU running back Martin Ruiz lost a fumble on the opening drive of the game to give Robert Morris great field position. The Colonials would take advantage with a 41 yard touchdown run by RB Rameses Owens on the ensuing play to take a 7-0 lead. The Penguin offense struggled throughout the first half with the elements making it difficult to throw the ball. QB Hunter Wells could not find a rhythm and numerous drops by receivers did not help his cause.
Youngstown State trailed 7-0 at halftime but would come out much stronger in the second half. The Penguins tied the game at 7-7 in the third quarter on a Martin Ruiz touchdown run. However, another rushing score from Robert Morris RB Rameses Owens would give the Colonials a 14-7 lead in the fourth quarter.
YSU faced a massive fourth-and-1 play from the Robert Morris 1-yard line late in the final period. After already missing two field goals in the wet conditions, Bo Pelini decided to go for the touchdown. Hunter Wells would find Shane Kuhn for a 1-yard passing score to even the game at 14 and send it to overtime.
The Penguins got the ball first in OT and faced yet another huge fourth down play. On fourth-and-1 from the Robert Morris 2-yard line, Hunter Wells somehow avoided multiple defenders and found I’Tavious Harvin in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. On the ensuing RMU drive, YSU defensive end Derek Rivers would sack QB Mathew Barr on fourth down to end the game.
Youngstown State ran the ball well with Jody Webb gaining 99 yards and Martin Ruiz collecting 95 yards and a touchdown. Ruiz became just the 12th player in YSU history to rush for 2,500 yards in a career. After a difficult first half, QB Hunter Wells was 6 of 7 for 54 yards and two scores in the second half and overtime. He finished 11 of 27 for 107 yards and two touchdowns.
On defense, YSU struggled again to stop the run, allowing RMU’s Rameses Owens to amass 152 yards and two scores on the ground. However, the Penguins allowed just 16 passing yards and forced a turnover with LeRoy Alexander’s third interception in two games. Defensive standout Derek Rivers collected a career-high nine tackles and his 19th career sack. The sack moves Rivers into second place on the school’s all-time sack list.
The heavy rain put a damper on Bo Pelini’s homecoming as the crowd was much smaller than most had expected for the home opener. The Penguins’ play was also not what most expected against a lower-level FCS team like Robert Morris. While the conditions did play a huge role, YSU was expected to win big over the Colonials after such a close game with Pittsburgh in Week 1.
The fact that the Penguins needed overtime to beat a limited-scholarship school like RMU was extremely surprising regardless of the weather situation. Head Coach Bo Pelini said, “I’ll take the win, I don't necessarily like the way it happened but now we need to go dissect it and get better this week.” YSU will need to improve their play immensely if they expect to compete for a playoff spot in the mighty Missouri Valley Football Conference.
The Penguins will be back at home this Saturday to host St. Francis (Pa). Kickoff is set for 4pm at Stambaugh Stadium.