by Drae Smith
Host of "The Drae Smith Show" Tuesdays 7pm-9pm
The Youngstown State football team broke a three-game losing streak this past Saturday with a 23-21 win at Western Illinois. The Penguins received key contributions from all three phases on a wet and chilly afternoon at Hanson Field in Macomb, IL. YSU improves to 4-4 overall and 2-3 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference while WIU drops to 4-4 and 3-2.
The Penguins struck first when backup QB Ricky Davis hit WR Andre Stubbs on a 49-yard touchdown pass to make it 7-0. Davis has been primarily used as a runner in the read option attack over the past few games. This was the first passing touchdown of the sophomore’s college career.
Just three plays later, the Leathernecks would strike back to tie the game on a 56-yard touchdown pass from Trenton Norvell to Lance Lenoir. Later in the first quarter, YSU safety Jameel Smith made a diving, over-the-shoulder interception at the WIU 32-yard line. This would lead to a 46-yard field goal from Zak Kennedy, giving the Penguins a 10-7 lead.
Andre Stubbs would fumble a punt at the start of the second quarter which gave Western Illinois possession. The Leathernecks would then take a 14-10 lead on a seven yard touchdown run from Nikko Watson. The Penguins would answer to take a 17-14 lead when RB Jody Webb scored from nine yards out. A second Zak Kennedy field goal made it 20-14 at the half.
The Leathernecks would regain the lead on a two yard scoring run from Watson, making it 21-20 in the third quarter. Zak Kennedy would hit his third field goal of the game late in the period to give YSU a two-point advantage. There would be no scoring in the final quarter, giving the Penguins a 23-21 victory.
Youngstown State needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive and did it in physical fashion. The Penguins had the ball, leading by two late in the fourth quarter and converted three consecutive first downs to melt valuable time off the clock.
They moved the chains with physical play up front and extremely tough running from RB Martin Ruiz. The junior finished the day with 77 rushing yards on 29 carries as well as five receptions. YSU would punt on the final drive to give Western one last chance but a great kick and a huge stop from the defense would seal the win.
The defensive unit had one of their better performances of the season, holding the Leathernecks to just 260 yards of total offense. They allowed only one passing completion and just 127 total yards in the first half. LB Lee Wright led the way for the Penguins with 14 total tackles, 13 of which were solo stops.
The Penguins defense put pressure on WIU QB Trenton Norvell all day long, registering four sacks and five tackles for loss. Norvell finished the game with just eight completions on 29 attempts for 154 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The YSU offense was inconsistent at times but found a way to make plays when it mattered. QB Hunter Wells was 16 of 26 for 152 yards and one interception. WR Andre Stubbs had another big day, catching six passes for 129 yards and a touchdown.
Punter Nick Sheely pinned three kicks inside the 20 yard line, one of which landed at the one. Kicker Zak Kennedy hit three of four field goals, one of which was from 46 yards out. Head Coach Bo Pelini said, “I thought that was our best total effort special teams wise and maybe our best total effort as a football team”.
Martin Ruiz added, “It feels like a big weight coming off our shoulders, but we are still taking it game by game.”
Youngstown State will return home this weekend to face Missouri State. Kickoff is slated for 2pm EST at Stambaugh Stadium.