Youngstown State limited No. 3 Illinois State to 161 total yards.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
NORMAL, Ill. -- Youngstown State's defense took a big step forward and junior quarterback Tom Zetts showed he can do much more than throw the football as the Penguins won a much-needed game in the Gateway Conference Saturday, 27-13, over Illinois State.
YSU's defense, which had given up over 350 yards per game in its last two games, came through with an outstanding effort, holding the Redbirds (6-2, 3-1 GFC) to just 161 total yards and 18 yards rushing. The No. 3-ranked Redbirds were averaging over 400 yards per game.
Zetts, the veteran from Boardman, had his finest game as a rusher, gaining 110 yards on 12 carries and scoring a touchdown. He also completed 9-of-17 passes for 93 yards.
Senior tailback Marcus Mason had another outstanding game with 176 yards on 34 carries and two touchdowns.
Combined with Western Illinois' 24-13 upset of Northern Iowa Saturday, the Penguins are back in a first-place tie with Western Kentucky in the Gateway standings.
"Our defense really stepped up today," said YSU coach Jon Heacock. "And give these kids credit for the way they came back from a disappointing defeat last week.
"We played very hard again against a very good football team," Heacock added. "But we've still got a lot of football left to play and it begins next week."
The Penguins (7-2, 4-1) held a 12-7 halftime lead despite two missed extra points by sophomore kicker Brian Palmer. The Mineral Ridge standout missed the first one, but replays showed the ball laying flat on the ground when he kicked his second into the offensive line.
Even after the Penguins committed their second turnover early in the third period, the defense was there to take over and the offense came back with two second-half touchdowns to give the Redbirds their first Gateway Conference defeat.
The Penguins took a 20-7 advantage late in the third quarter after the defense kept the Redbirds deep in their own territory and forced a punt.
Zetts hit senior T.J. Peterson with a 16-yard pass and two plays later Mason scored his second TD on a 7-yard scamper. Zetts then connected with junior tight end Louis Irizarry for the two-point conversion.
Redbirds quarterback Luke Drone, finally with some time to throw, connected twice to Dan Passarelli, the second one for 36 yards to the YSU 6. Three plays later Pierre Rembert scored from 2 yards out, but Kevin Masur missed his first extra point of the year to make it 20-13.
The Penguins then went to the ground game, with Zetts carrying five times, including an 11-yard run. He completed the drive with a 1-yard sneak with just under five minutes remaining.
The YSU defense held Rembert to just 11 yards on 14 carries, over 100 yards under his season average. Drone was 10-of-31 for 143 yards and was sacked three times by the Penguins.
"Give YSU credit. They came in here and shut us down. Nobody has done that all season," Illinois State coach Denver Johnson said.
The Penguins scored the first time they touched the football.
After shutting down Illinois State's opening drive, the Penguins used 12 plays to cover 61 yards.
Zetts connected on his first six passes in the drive and also ran for 13 yards to the Redbirds 1-yard line on a rollout.
Mason capped off the drive with the 1-yard score, but Palmer missed the PAT wide right.
The Penguins kept the Redbirds' offense in check for most of the half, but ISU's defense produced the only points of the half for the Redbirds.
YSU started in at its 5-yard line before running by Zetts and Mason got the Penguins out to the Illinois State 42.
After a holding call, Zetts dropped back to pass against a big rush. He tried to throw the ball away, but it was tipped by a Redbird defender and it went right into the hands of defensive tackle Jarek Thomas at the YSU 28-yard line and the 6-foot-3, 275-pounder rumbled into the end zone.
Legs take over
On the next series the Penguins regained the lead and this time it was Zetts' legs and not his arm that set up the score.
With a first down at the YSU 46, Zetts faked beautifully to Gibson and bootlegged to his right, running to the ISU 17. On the next play Gibson darted up the middle, cut back and scored.