Youngstown State saw its playoff hopes disappear with a stunning last-second loss to Missouri State
By Joe Scalzo
Senior Day? More like Senior Daze.
A week after the biggest win of the Eric Wolford era, the Youngstown State football team saw a surefire playoff berth slip through its fingers with a 38-34 loss to Missouri State Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium.
“Today’s game obviously did not turn out like we had planned on it,” said YSU coach Eric Wolford. “It’s a process that you go through and sometimes it’s a difficult process, as we’ve seen.
“I told our football team that we didn’t do enough things today to win that football game.”
After taking a 27-10 halftime lead, the Penguins gave up four second-half touchdowns, including the game-winner with 10 seconds remaining on a 2-yard TD pass from Bears quarterback Trevor Wooden to wide receiver Cadarrius Dotson.
YSU got the ball back with nine seconds left at its own 27. QB Kurt Hess quickly hit WR Christian Bryan for an 18-yard gain on first down. But Hess’s last-gasp throw was knocked down around the MSU 20.
“Last year, we were consistently having this feeling,” said Hess, who has lost nine games by a touchdown or less over the past two years. “Now we were on a run and we were playing well and we were winning and the standards got higher and we were loving it.
“To have it come crashing down, it hurts.”
A YSU win would have likely secured a playoff berth thanks to losses by league rivals Illinois State and Indiana State. Instead, YSU (6-5, 4-4 Missouri Valley) enters the offseason wondering “What if?” instead of “What’s next?”
“Third quarter ... we just didn’t come out on fire,” said senior DT Andrew Johnson, one of 12 seniors playing their final games. “We treated it like we had already won the game and it just slipped away from us.
“This definitely hurts. This is the worst loss I’ve experienced in my football career.”
Over the past few weeks, Wolford has emphasized the need to close out games on offense and the Penguins had that chance late.
After MSU cut the deficit to three, 34-31, with 6:28 left, the Penguins took over at their own 31 and quickly picked up two first downs, including one on a third-and-1 at the MSU 48. The next two plays — both Jamaine Cook rushes — gained five yards.
On third down, Hess tried to hit Cook on a little swing pass out to the left, but Cook couldn’t corral it, forcing YSU to punt with just over two minutes left.
“We got two first downs there and we needed three,” said Hess. “It’s disappointing. We made one too many mistakes. We had an opportunity to close the game and we didn’t do it.”
Nick Liste’s punt was fielded at the 9 by Sybhrian Berry, who sidestepped a couple tacklers and tiptoed down the sideline for a 27-yard return. Seven plays later, Wooden found Robert Fields on a 30-yard pass down to the YSU 2. After Wooden spiked the ball to stop the clock with 15 seconds left, he threw a fade to Dotson in the left corner of the south end zone to give the Bears (2-9, 2-6) their fourth straight win over YSU.
Consequently, instead of potentially hosting a first-round playoff game, the Penguins will have to settle for doubling their win total from last season.
When asked if he considers it a successful year, Wolford said, “It’ll never be successful to me until we put another [national championship] banner up there.
“We set our standards high, but that’s why you come here.”