By Drae Smith
YSU Football Reporter for Rookery Radio
YSU Football Sideline Reporter for 570 WKBN / iHeartRadio
The Youngstown State football team earned an impressive 14-10 come from behind win over Northern Iowa this past Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium. Everything was going wrong for the Penguins in the first half as their top two quarterbacks both went out with injuries. Starter Ricky Davis hurt his right knee while scrambling out of the pocket in the second quarter. Davis fumbled on the play, the ball was recovered by Northern Iowa who then converted on a 27-yard field goal from Austin Errthum to take a 3-0 lead.
Davis would return to the game but was hobbled by the knee injury. Just 44 seconds after the field goal, Duncan Ferch intercepted a Ricky Davis pass and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown to give the Panthers a 10-0 advantage. On the next YSU possession, Davis would leave the game in favor of the backup, Trent Hosick. The junior was intercepted on his first drive and suffered a broken collarbone trying to make a play on the return. That meant the third string quarterback, redshirt freshman Nathan Mays, had to enter the game with no other quarterback active. The YSU defense was extremely strong in the first half, keeping the Penguins in the game despite all of the injuries and problems on offense.
The defense continued its dominance throughout the second half, keeping the UNI lead at 10-0 throughout the third quarter. The YSU offensive line would begin to impose their will in the running game during the third quarter. About halfway through the period, the Penguins put together an impressive 22-play drive that went 86 yards while consuming 11 minutes and 40 seconds. Twenty of the 22 plays on the drive were of the rushing variety. Sophomore tailback Tevin McCaster capped it off with a one-yard touchdown run to cut the UNI lead to 10-7 early in the fourth quarter.
The YSU defense allowed just nine first-downs in the game and only one after halftime. They held the Panthers to -17 rushing yards in the second half while the YSU offense ran 43 times for 159 yards. About midway through the final period, YSU QB Nathan Mays threw an interception on a potential go-ahead drive that looked to be the back-breaker for any comeback hopes. However, the defense would come up huge again as defensive end Derek Rivers sacked UNI QB Aaron Bailey on third down to force another punt. Wideout Darien Townsend returned the punt 45 yards to give the Penguins great field position at the UNI 38-yard line.
Youngstown State would continue its rushing dominance on a final drive which featured impressive, physical runs by tailbacks Tevin McCaster, Jody Webb and Martin Ruiz. The drive lasted 3:09 and ended with 28 seconds left in the game on a one-yard score by Martin Ruiz that put the Penguins ahead 14-10. Ruiz led the team with 23 carries and 100 rushing yards on the night while Webb added 57 yards on 15 attempts. For the game, the three YSU quarterbacks combined to complete just five of 14 passes for only 28 yards and three interceptions. The Panthers would get one final drive but a hail-mary pass was batted down in the end-zone as time expired to seal a 14-10 YSU victory.
The Penguins defense allowed just 173 yards of total offense and registered six sacks on the evening. They held All-Conference quarterback Aaron Bailey to just three of 10 passing for 44 yards and only 10 net rushing yards. Bailey was averaging 167.6 passing yards and 81.4 rushing yards per game coming into the contest. Safety Jameel Smith and linebacker Armand Dellovade led the way with eight tackles each while defensive tackle Savon Smith collected five tackles and two sacks. Avery Moss, Derek Rivers, Donald Mesier and Jayln Powell also recorded one sack each. The YSU offense gained 254 total yards, 226 of which came on the ground.
Youngstown State improves to 5-1 overall, 3-0 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference while Northern Iowa falls to 2-4 overall and 1-2 in MVFC play. The Penguins will now head on the road to face the red-hot South Dakota State Jackrabbits who upset defending champion, North Dakota State, on Saturday. The Penguins and the Jackrabbits are both 3-0 in conference play so the winner of this week’s game will stand alone in first place of the MVFC standings. Kickoff in Brookings, SD is scheduled for 3pm EST this Saturday, October, 22nd.