by Drae Smith
Host of "The Drae Smith Show" Tuesdays 7pm-9pm
The Youngstown State football team suffered a heartbreaking defeat this past weekend at Southern Illinois. The Penguins found themselves ahead 14-7 at halftime and 31-20 in the fourth quarter but could not finish the job. Big plays from an explosive Southern Illinois offense would be the difference in the game.
The Penguins would take the lead in the second quarter on a 1 yard touchdown pass from Hunter Wells to Andrew Williams. However, the Salukis would answer when QB Mark Iannotti found Billy Reed for a 63 yard passing score. YSU would then score on a 5 yard run from backup QB Ricky Davis, making the score 14-7 at halftime.
Southern Illinois would answer back when Kenny James intercepted Hunter Wells and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown. The Penguins would block the extra point to make the score 14-13. Mark Iannotti would then find the end zone on a two-yard run to give SIU a 20-14 lead. YSU responded with two straight Hunter Wells touchdown passes to take the 28-20 advantage. The first went to I’Tavious Harvin for 7 yards, the second was an 85 yard bomb to Andrew Williams.
Youngstown State kicker Zak Kennedy connected on a 33-yard field goal with 5:35 left in the game to extend the Penguins lead to 31-20. However, the Salukis would strike back just 25 seconds later with a 75 yard touchdown pass from Iannotti to Daquan Isom. YSU brought a blitz and SIU had the answer with a quick screen pass which went the distance. They would also go on to convert the two-point play, pulling within three at 31-28.
The Penguins then went three-and-out and a poor punt from Nick Sheely left Southern Illinois with great field position. The Salukis pushed the ball to the one yard line but were forced to settle for an 18 yard field goal to tie the game at 31-31 and force overtime. SIU would take the ball first in overtime and scored on a 24-yard pass from Iannotti to Isra Lamprakes.
Down 38-31 and needing a touchdown to extend the game, YSU faced a fourth-and-two from the SIU six yard line. Running back Jody Webb took a pitch to the right and attempted a halfback pass to Kevin Rader in the end zone. The pass was broken up, giving Southern Illinois the 38-31 victory.
The painful loss leaves YSU at 3-4 and 1-3 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. With three league losses already and four contests remaining, the Penguins' playoff chances are now extremely slim. With the arrival of new Head Coach Bo Pelini, there were great expectations for YSU coming into this season. The rough start in conference play has left many fans surprised and disappointed.
On the positive side, the Youngstown State offense rebounded from a disastrous performance the week before against South Dakota State. The unit put up 501 total yards with 177 on the ground and 324 through the air. QB Hunter Wells received heavy criticism throughout the week and responded with one of his better performances.
Wells completed 20 of 31 passes for a career-high 324 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Star running back Martin Ruiz, who barely played the week before, got back on track with 94 yards on 24 carries. Wide receiver Andrew Williams had a huge day with six catches for 150 yards and two scores. Williams now ranks top 5 in school history for both receptions and receiving yards.
The YSU defense however struggled with big plays, giving up passing touchdowns of 63 and 75 yards. They gave up 459 total yards while allowing SIU QB Mark Iannotti to throw for 275 yards and three touchdowns. Heading into the game, the Penguins had not given up more than 145 passing yards in a game and were leading the FCS in passing defense.
The road ahead does not get any easier for YSU as they now head to Macomb, IL to face Western Illinois. The Leathernecks are ranked 23rd and are 4-3 (3-1) on the season. The Penguins have now fallen to #25 in the STATS FCS Poll.