By Joe Scalzo
Saturday’s Youngstown State-Northern Iowa game was the 10th version of a bad horror movie, with all the requisite rules about sequels (courtesy of the “Scream” movies) in play.
“You’ve got a killer who’s gonna be superhuman.”
UNI QB Tirrell Rennie filled that role against the Penguins, running for 194 yards and two TDs and throwing for another 152 yards and a TD as the Panthers won their 10th straight in the series, beating YSU 34-30 at Stambaugh Stadium.
“The past will come back to bite you in the butt.”
In four of the last five games, the Penguins held double digit leads against conference opponents.
They lost all four.
“If you want your films to be a successful franchise, never, ever assume the killer is dead.”
This one goes hand-in-hand with the last one, as the Penguins led Western Illinois, North Dakota State and UNI in the final three minutes of all three games.
Each time, the defense failed to get a stop.
Today is Halloween. Saturday felt like Groundhog Day.
“I’ve never been through any type of process like this in my life,” Penguins coach Eric Wolford said. “I can handle getting beat, when we get beat. I have a hard time handling giving football games away.
“We’ve given entirely too many games away.”
The latest version looked a lot like the loss to North Dakota State three weeks ago. YSU took a 30-27 lead against the Panthers on a 39-yard TD run by Jamaine Cook with 2:27 left.
The Penguins squibbed the ensuing kickoff, lost containment and allowed Carlos Anderson to return it 58 yards to the YSU 19.
On the next play, Rennie broke through the middle of the defense for the touchdown.
The whole thing took 19 seconds.
“Since Day One of camp, [defensive coordinator Rick] Kravitz has been preaching, ‘We don’t care where they put the ball at, we’ve got to get a stop,’” YSU senior defensive tackle Torrance Nicholson said. “If they don’t score, we don’t lose.
“Obviously they scored and we lost.”
The Penguins got the ball back at their own 22 with no timeouts, but a Kurt Hess incompletion on first down, followed by three straight Cook runs that managed just four yards, doomed YSU to its fifth straight loss — all in Missouri Valley Football Conference play.
“It just rips your heart out,” Wolford said. “It’s kind of where we are right now.”
Like they have for most of the year, the Penguins started fast, grabbing a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter thanks to Hess TD passes to Andre Barboza (33 yards) and Dominique Barnes (71 yards).
But after containing Rennie for much of the first half, the junior QB transitioned from a passer to a runner in the second half, gashing YSU’s defense for 137 yards rushing in the final 30 minutes. Although the thin YSU defense seemed to tire, much of the damage was due to missed assignments and poor tackling.
“Everybody has to be disciplined and we got away from our option responsibilities,” Nicholson said. “We just had to play fundamentally sound for 60 minutes and we probably did for about 40.”
UNI (5-3, 4-1), the only team in the conference with fewer than two losses, finished with 431 yards, including 279 on the ground. It’s the fifth straight game YSU’s defense has given up at least 400 yards.
Cook finished with 127 yards on 26 carries but lost a fumble inside the 10 that led to a first quarter Panther field goal. Hess was 14 of 22 for 218 yards but also threw an interception that led to UNI’s first touchdown.
“In these games the margin of error is very small,” Hess said. “We made too many mistakes.”
YSU (3-6, 1-5) finishes its season with winnable games against Illinois State and Indiana State but is guaranteed to finish worse than last year’s 6-5 mark.
One of the rules of the first Scream film was to never say “I’ll be right back,” but that’s one Wolford is willing to break.
“I am confident that we’re very close,” he said. “These kids are playing hard. They’re playing their guts out.
“I tell the coaches, we need to keep finding ways to be even more creative than we have been, to get four to seven more points somehow. We keep getting close. We’ve got to get a little bit more.”