Quarterback Jeff Ryan spearheaded the Penguins to a rout of Elon University on "Senior Day."
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- The seniors on Youngstown State University's football team said the I-AA playoffs began Saturday, and they won't be satisfied with anything less than five more games.
The Penguins did well in their first "playoff game," and the seniors, led by quarterback Jeff Ryan, rolled to a 45-7 victory over Elon University before 12,632 fans at Stambaugh Stadium.
It was "Senior Day" for the Penguins, and all 21 of them were introduced with their parents before the game, and then all of them had a hand in the rout of the Phoenix.
It was a game YSU (8-2) dominated from start to finish, with one regular season contest remaining next Saturday at Division I-A Marshall in Huntington, W.Va.
Need win: The Penguins still need a victory against the Herd to assure themselves of an "official" playoff berth, although if they give Marshall a good game, there might still be some hope after Saturday's impressive win.
Both YSU coach Jon Heacock and Ryan felt the Penguins' week off prior to this game made a difference in the team.
"We had a week off and we had fresh legs," said Ryan. "That and the fact that our seniors just aren't ready to see this season end yet."
Impressive: The Penguins put together an impressive offensive display against the Phoenix, rolling up 609 yards in total offense and coming within just 9 yards of the home record of 618 yards set in 1990.
The Penguins rushed for 373 yards and for the first time since 1997, had two players with over 100 yards rushing -- junior tailback P.J. Mays rolled up 170 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns, while sophomore tailback Mike Burns of Niles accounted for 116 yards on 10 carries and one touchdown.
QBs do well: Ryan finished the game hitting 8-of-13 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns, and also rushed for another 22. Junior backup quarterback Colby Street was a perfect 5-for-5 passing for 81 yards and also ran for one score.
"Outside of the fact that we turned the ball over two times, we played a great game," said Heacock. "Elon has talented people and we needed to be at our best to win."
The Penguins lost two fumbles, both by Mays.
One came as he was heading for the end zone; the ball was kicked through the end zone for a touchback.
Elon (2-9) finished with 223 total yards, 198 of them on the ground and just 68 passing. It had two passes intercepted and lost one fumble.
Commendation: "You have to give Youngstown credit, they really put it to us today. We hurt ourselves at times, but basically it was Youngstown that was the difference," Elon coach Al Seagraves said. "Today they were the best team that we've played against this season."
The Penguins wasted little time getting on the scoreboard, as they covered 59 yards in just three plays on their first possession. Ryan hit tight end Dennis Dlugosz with a 34-yard strike, and then Mays broke off tackle and raced 24 yards for the score.
The Penguins went up 14-0 on their second possession, and again it was a Ryan-to-Dlugosz connection that set up the score. The pass play covered 41 yards to the Elon 3-yard line. Ryan had to avoid several tacklers in order to get the pass away.
Mays' 19th TD: Mays added his second touchdown on a 2-yard run. It was his 19th touchdown of the season, 18 of them by rush.
In the second period, the Penguins blew a scoring opportunity after senior LeVar Greene made his seventh interception of the season at the YSU 35.
On the first play, Mays broke loose for 28 yards. On the second play, he was loose again and this time headed for the end zone when Jameel Abdur-Raheem came up from behind and knocked the ball loose.
It went off Mays' knee and rolled through the end zone for a touchback.
Burns delivers: But even that didn't stop the Penguins, as they got the ball back quickly and then Burns took over in the backfield and carried three times for 66 yards.
The final carry was for 44 yards and a touchdown.
The Penguins added one more score before halftime, and they did it in 31 seconds covering 62 yards. It came after Anthony Barone's interception.
Ryan hit four passes in that 31 seconds.
All four went to senior wide receiver Sean Guerriero covering 12, 13, 24 and 13 yards, the final one for a touchdown on a great throw and an outstanding catch by Guerriero in the end zone.
More scoring: YSU added a 31-yard field goal by sophomore Jake Stewart to open the second half, and then after Greene recovered a fumbled lateral at the Elon 32, Ryan connected with senior Eugene Mintze on a 15-yard score.
The Penguins added a safety when Darius Peterson blocked his second punt of the season in the end zone. Street came on in relief of Ryan in the third period and scored the final YSU points on an 8-yard run.