By Drae Smith
YSU Football Reporter for Rookery Radio
YSU Football Sideline Reporter on 570 WKBN / iHeartRadio
The Youngstown State football team earned a vey important 20-6 road victory over Illinois State this past Saturday at Hancock Stadium in Normal, IL. The Penguins are now 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference while the Redbirds have now lost four in a row to fall to 2-4 overall and 0-3 in league play.
The game was a defensive battle throughout the first half with no scoring until YSU kicker Zak Kennedy drilled a 42-yard field goal with 10 seconds left before halftime, making it 3-0 at the intermission. Illinois State would come out strong in the third quarter behind the power running of impressive freshman running back James Robinson. The freshman is the all-time leading rusher in Illinois high school football history and showed his skills on Saturday.
On the first drive after halftime, Robinson busted loose on what looked to be a long touchdown run. However, YSU cornerback Nate Dortch would make one of the most important plays of the day. The senior hustled down the field and was able to trip up Robinson at about the five-yard line to prevent a touchdown. The YSU defense would then make an impressive stand inside the five-yard line and force Illinois State to settle for a 20-yard field goal from Sean Slattery, which tied the game at 3-3.
Robinson would continue his strong running in the third quarter, setting up another Sean Slattery field goal from 27 yards to put the Redbirds ahead 6-3. Robinson finished the day with 103 rushing yards on 14 carries and 50 receiving yards on three receptions. The momentum would swing in YSU’s favor early in the fourth quarter when quarterback Ricky Davis hit wideout Alvin Bailey for a 20-yard touchdown which put the Penguins back in front 10-6.
The game would remain 10-6 until late in the fourth quarter when YSU’s offensive line and running game started to wear on the Redbird defense. Sophomore tailback Tevin McCaster would break out for a crucial 56-yard run to set up the Penguins inside the Illinois State 10-yard line. McCaster would punch it in for a touchdown from 1-yard out a few plays later to seal the game and put YSU up 17-6 with just over two minutes left in the game. Zak Kennedy would add a 35-yard field goal with 1:35 remaining to produce the final score of 20-6.
The Youngstown State defense was absolutely suffocating once again, showing why they are thought of as one of the best defensive units in the FCS. They held a talented Illinois State offense to just six points, 250 total yards and got after quarterback Jake Kolbe all day long. The Penguins collected six sacks on the afternoon, three by All-American defensive end Derek Rivers, two by DE Avery Moss and one from cornerback Kenny Bishop. The YSU defense also recorded an impressive 10 tackles for loss.
Linebacker Armand Dellovade and safety LeRoy Alexander led the way with six total tackles each. The group was also able to hold Illinois State’s All-American wide receiver Anthony Warrum to just one reception for 19 yards. Jake Kolbe was just 10 of 26 passing for 134 yards against a YSU secondary which played extremely well throughout the contest. The Redbirds converted just three of 13 third down plays for the game.
On the offensive side, the Penguins did struggle for a large portion of the game. QB Ricky Davis had probably his worst performance of the season, completing just six of 18 passes for 89 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Davis was effective in the running game though, carrying the ball 18 times for a team-high 97 yards. Tevin McCaster finished with 81 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries while Jody Webb added 48 yards on 13 attempts. The Penguins rushed for 276 yards as a team with an average of 5.3 per attempt.
YSU will now begin preparation for a huge matchup this Saturday night against perennial MVFC power Northern Iowa. The Panthers will come to Youngstown at 2-3 overall and 1-1 in the MVFC after a surprising 28-25 upset loss at South Dakota this past Saturday. Kickoff for that contest on October 15th is scheduled for 7pm ET at Stambaugh Stadium.