YSU scores apparent game-winner in final minute, only to allow Illinois State to win game on the last play
By Jack McCarthy
The bitter reality for Youngstown State is that college football games do not last 59 minutes and 33 seconds.
“It’s a 60-minute game, 60 minutes,” said Penguins quarterback Kurt Hess, who scored an apparent game-winning touchdown with 27 seconds to play against Illinois State on Saturday.
But the host Redbirds used dwindling ticks on the clock to march 69 yards in three plays and pulled out a 41-39 Missouri Valley Football Conference victory before 10,076 fans at Hancock Stadium.
“This is college football at it’s ugliest,” Hess said. “It’s one of the hardest things — to lose in the last second.”
Illinois State (5-5, 4-4) scored with one second remaining in regulation on a 40-yard pass from quarterback Matt Brown to Tyrone Walker, their third and most critical scoring combination of the day.
“We’ve had a bunch of games end this way recently, but it hasn’t ended with seven seconds,” said Penguins coach Eric Wolford. “Adversity builds character. We’re a team that’s having a hard time finishing a game right now ... but I’m sure in time we’ll get those things corrected and we’ll have a chance to be a good football team some day.”
The loss was the sixth straight for Youngstown State (3-7, 1-5). The Penguins have led in every game this season but lost in the late going for the fourth time since early October.
The loss overshadowed superlative performances by Hess, a freshman, and sophomore running back Jamaine Cook.
Hess was 19 of 38 for 250 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Cook rushed 43 times for 213 yards, both career highs, and scored twice.
“It was really hard. We came out with a lot of heart and passion and left it all on the field,” said Cook, who carried 19 times for 153 yards in the second half. “It seems like we’re having bad luck. I’ve never seen anything like this [so many late losses] in all my years of football.
“I felt like my team needed me,” said Cook about his second-half surge. “Someone needed to step up, and I knew I had to make some plays.”
Youngstown State went ahead 39-35 with less than a half-minute to play when Hess capped a 12-play, 96-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown run.
“I saw a lane open up and I just kind of reacted,” he said.
Wolford said the call wasn’t his first choice.
“It was getting to be crunch time there with the clock and not having any timeouts, but Kurt pulled it down and ran it in,” he said. “Quarterback scramble is a dangerous play, but Kurt can run the ball pretty well.”
With a four-point lead to protect, Penguins kicker Jake Smith delivered a 56-yard kickoff into the wind.
The Redbirds set up at their own 31 and were dropped back to the 27 when defensive end Daniel Stewart sacked Brown.
Brown shook off the hit and completed a 33-yard pass to Marvon Sanders to the Penguin 40 with eight seconds showing. On the next play, Brown found Walker for the winning score.
“I was thinking we had to get the ball to midfield,” said Illinois State coach Brock Spack. “And if you get the ball to midfield, you take shots at the end zone.
“Brown’s got a great arm and if it’s close, Tyrone is going to come down with the football. He’s got great big hands.”
Until the late touchdown, the closest Youngstown State came to leading was a 7-7 second quarter tie.
Wide receiver Dominique Barnes paced the Penguins with eight catches for 113 yards, including a diving 32-yarder early in the third quarter inside the 1 that led to a Cook touchdown run.