Marcus Mason eclipsed 200 yards rushing as the Penguins improved to 7-1.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- The Youngstown State football team is ready for the best teams the Gateway Conference has to offer.
Saturday, the Penguins proved they are up to the challenge of vying for their first crown in the conference with a crushing fourth-quarter performance against Missouri State.
Tailback Marcus Mason rushed for 203 yards on 32 carries and backup quarterback Vince Gliatta scored two rushing touchdowns in the final frame as YSU rolled to a 31-7 victory.
"I'm really tired and really sore," said Mason, a first-year transfer from Division I-A Illinois. "The O-line really did a great job today.
"All week long, we were worried about their defensive line because they are very good, but our offensive line really stepped up today," Mason said.
YSU coach Jon Heacock praised Mason's work despite only being "75 percent healthy. He's a banged-up guy and he has been all season."
Tied for first place
The victory keeps YSU (7-1, 4-0 Gateway) tied with Western Kentucky (6-1, 4-0) for first place with three weeks to go as well as their hopes for the postseason.
Adding to YSU's optimism is how next week's opponent, stumbling Northern Iowa, lost 38-3 to Illinois State, a team that YSU defeated 20-17 on Oct. 1.
The Penguins outrushed the Bears, 331-116. YSU's pass defense limited Missouri State quarterback Scott Carroll 49 yards after he completed 9-of-16 attempts.
"The weather affected them a little bit," YSU linebacker Justin Scholes said of the Bears' passing struggles. "They like to throw the 3-step [pass] a lot and they weren't completing those short passes nor making yards after the catch. Our secondary stepped it up tonight, for sure."
So did Mason who dominated, especially in the fourth quarter when YSU clung to a 10-7 lead.
After three straight runs of 6, 11 and 9 yards, Mason served as a decoy as Gliatta fooled the Bears with a 7-yard sprint into the end zone.
The 11-play, 84-yard drive ate 5:56 off the clock and the 10-point bulge allowed the Penguins to tee off on Carroll.
Scholes sacked Carroll for a 10-yard loss. One play later, Codera Jackson picked off Carroll at midfield. That set up Gliatta's second touchdown, a 14-yard run on a quarterback draw.
In the final seconds, backup tailback Justin Reams scored on a 7-yard run to ice the Bears' (3-4, 1-3) playoff hopes.
The first half was anything but a romp.
Things started well for the Penguins when their defense forced the Bears to punt after a three-and-out series, thanks to Scholes' stop of P.J. Ikner on third-and-1 play for no gain.
The Penguins seized early control, gobbling 8:31 by marching 72 yards mostly on Mason runs (11 for 55 yards).
On third-and-goal, quarterback Tom Zetts zipped the ball into the end zone but tight end Derrick Bush was unable to control it along the end line. The Penguins settled for Brian Palmer's 19-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
Three YSU mistakes -- a blocked punt, a muffed punt and a pass interference call near the goal line -- kept the Bears alive. But only one of them led to a Missouri State score.
Seven minutes before halftime, punt returner Jason Perry muffed the ball and Missouri State's Chris Giez recovered at the YSU 28.
Three plays later, Michael Cooper broke through the Penguins line and burst into the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown that gave Missouri State its only lead.
Gliatta replaced Zetts and the Penguins responded by marching 80 yards on nine plays. Mason's 26-yard touchdown run put the Penguins ahead 10-7 and gave him 115 yards on 19 first-half carries.