By Pete Mollica
YSU has a winning record in what could be Coach Jon Heacock’s final year.
FARGO, N.D. — Youngstown State senior quarterback Brandon Summers has taken a lot of criticism for his sporadic play this season.
Saturday, he made up for it.
Summers directed two YSU scoring drives in the final quarter, the last one with just 22 seconds left, as the Penguins took some of the disappointment off an off-season with a 39-35 come-from-behind victory over North Dakota State at the Fargodome.
Summers threw three touchdown passes, with the final two capping drives of 80 and 70 yards in the final eight minutes to give the Penguins (6-5, 4-4 Missouri Valley Football Conference) a winning record in what could be the final game for head coach Jon Heacock.
Heacock, who is 60-44 in nine seasons since taking over for Jim Tressel, may be replaced after leading the Penguins to just one playoff berth over that stretch.
“I always believe in our team and our guys never quit and it we really withstood that today,” said Heacock. “Our seniors made some big senior plays in their last game and they are never going to forget it.”
The Bison (3-8, 2-6), meanwhile, failed to win more than one home game for the first time in the 16-year history of the Fargodome.
Summers finished 23-for-34 for 259 yards and the three TDs, but 14 of those completions came in those final two drives.
“We felt once we got down there in field goal range we could mange the football a little easier and we have some guys who can catch it and a guy who can certainly throw it, Heacock said. “We continued to play and we got a stop when we needed it and that stop was huge. It was the first time we had them three-and-out all game.”
“We got it back and went down and scored, so I guess we just needed one stop and we got it.”
Junior wide receiver Dominique Barnes caught two of those scoring passes, including the game-winner, with just 22.1 seconds remaining on a 5-yard reception across the middle of the end zone after Summers made a great move in the backfield, reversing his field and finding the wide-open Barnes.
While Summers and the offense did well most of the game, the YSU defense struggled. The Penguins allowed 470 yards, including 232 on the ground and 140 of those from the Football Championship Subdivision’s leading rusher Pat Paschall, who also scored three touchdowns and helped the Bison build a 35-24 lead with eight minutes remaining.
The Penguins finished with 355 yards. With eight minutes left, they had just 205 yards and 132 passing until Summers went to work. The Penguins still struggled with the running game, netting just 67 yards on 33 carries.
The Penguins got the game’s first break, which resulted in the game’s first score. Paschall fumbled on the game’s first offensive play and YSU’s David Fleming recovered at the Bison 46.
Sophomore Marc Kanetsky opened the game at quarterback since Summers had been a little banged up and missed some practice last week. In his first start, he took the Penguins right down the field, hitting two clutch passes. From the 5-yard-line, the Hubbard native threw a perfect touchdown pass to senior Donald Jones for the lead.
On the next series, safety Brandian Ross picked off a Jose Mohler pass, but the Penguins were unable to capitalize on it.
North Dakota State tied the game early in the second quarter on a 1-yard run by Paschall, but the Penguins countered with their second score when Summers drove them 71 yards before hitting Barnes with a 6-yard touchdown pass.
Again the Bison countered and again it was Paschall, this time again on a 1-yard run to tie the game.
The Penguins then made their first turnover as Jones fumbled after making a reception and the Bison recovered and drove to the 10 yard line. But when the drive fizzled, John Obarski attempted a 27-yard field goal, which was blocked by YSU’s Torrance Nicholson and then scooped up by senior Lenny Wicks, who returned it 79 yards for a score and a 21-14 lead.
The Bison came right back on three plays, going 65 yards and Mohler hit Warren Holloway with a 21-yard scoring toss with 46 seconds remaining in the half.
North Dakota State got its first lead in the third quarter, driving 61 yards before Mohler connected with Matt Veldman on a 27-yard scoring toss.
YSU junior kicker Stephen Blose closed the gap with a 28-yard field goal as the final quarter opened, but Paschall’s 3-yard run with 7:59 remaining made the score 35-24.
Summers then took over and in the two final drives, only ran the ball twice. He hit Barnes with a big 48-yard pass in the first drive before connecting with senior Aaron Pitts for the score from 4 yards out. He had nine completions in the second drive and the game-winning TD came after he threw two straight incompletions into the end zone.
On third down he took the snap started right and then reversed his field and found Barnes wide open.
North Dakota State made the final 22 seconds exciting as Mohler took it to the YSU 45 and on the final play threw to the end zone, where sophomore Scott Sentner of McDonald intercepted to end the contest.
Penguins vs. Bison
Not in Fargo: Three members of the YSU traveling squad did not make the trip because on an off-campus incident a week ago that involved a fight. Starting strong safety Nick Gooden, a redshirt freshman, backup cornerback A.J. Walker, a freshman and sophomore safety Adam House all were left back in Youngstown after being implicated in last week’s fight.
AD tied up: YSU athletic director Ron Strollo missed his first football game since being named to the position. Strollo, who serves on the FCS football playoff selection committee, spent the weekend at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis to prepare for today’s selection.
Record day: YSU senior wide receiver Donald Jones broke the school’s single season pass reception record. He finished with 77 receptions, breaking the record of Jim Ferranti set back in 1979 of 75. Senior quarterback Brandon Summers set the completions record (219), breaking the mark of 215 set by Trenton Lykes back in 1987.