Clarion's secret weapons gave YSU a scare.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Clarion's special teams were aptly named Thursday night.
"Special teams can win football games for you," Golden Eagles coach Malen Luke said.
Or, failing that, they can at least keep you close.
Facing a bigger and more talented YSU team, the Division II Golden Eagles had secret weapons all over the place on special teams. And while it wasn't enough to squeak out a win it was enough to give the Penguins a scare.
Senior Kareem Shelton started the game with a 78-yard kickoff return. Clarion also converted two fake punts.
"We spend a lot of time on special teams," Clarion coach Malen Luke said. "When you don't have a chance to scout a team beforehand, you can sometimes turn to the kicking game to make plays."
Clarion quarterback Adam Almashy was 7-of-14 for 61 yards. Clarion punter Ken Crawford was 2-for-2 for 41 yards.
While Crawford probably won't challenge for a starting job -- quarterbacks don't tend to wear No. 92 -- he does give the Eagles another threat.
"We had a pretty good game plan," Clarion defensive lineman Troy Bowers, who missed all of last season, said. "We wanted to come in knowing we can play with them. A lot of us had a chance to go to bigger schools, so we had a lot of confidence."
The Golden Eagles didn't need to win Thursday's game. They play Div. II teams the rest of the season and, after getting blown out by YSU 44-0 last year, they were just looking to be competitive.
"We had to earn their respect," Luke said. "We were down 20-0 at halftime and probably the thing I was proudest of was that we pulled together and rallied."
Added YSU running back P.J. Mays: "They weren't intimidated. They know they can play hard."
Easing the pressure
Bowers had Clarion's only sack, but the Golden Eagles stuffed nine men in the box and harassed YSU quarterbacks Colby Street and Luis Gonzalez all night. The Penguins only had time to look for one receiver, which took pressure off Clarion's cornerbacks.
The result -- YSU had just 68 yards passing.
The Golden Eagles did give up 300 yards rushing, but that was more a credit to YSU than an insult to Clarion's defense.
"P.J. Mays is a special player," Luke said. "I don't think our defense will face anyone like him the rest of the season. We could go all the way to the championship game and not see a player like that."
Almashy, a Newton Falls High graduate, had minus-9 yards rushing, thanks to five sacks. But he made good decisions and kept Clarion in the game, allowing other players to contribute.
"It's a lot easier if I don't have to do everything," Almashy said.
The Golden Eagles have yet to beat YSU in five tries, but this game was definitely a step forward. Clarion's schedule only gets easier from this point on.
And after last year's drubbing, Almashy was happy to finally have a strong showing in his hometown.
"You don't want to come home and disappoint the home crowd," he said.