By Joe Scalzo
Like many schools, ROTC members at Youngstown State have a tradition of doing push-ups after every Penguin score. The idea is to match the number on the scoreboard — so if a team has 28 points, they do 28 push-ups.
And if a team has 77?
Well, by the time YSU reached that point on Saturday, they simply lined up 11 ROTC members and each person did seven.
In winning their first game in 350 days, the Penguins wore out the scoreboard, wore out the record book and even wore out the Army, crushing Horizon League rival Valparaiso 77-13 in the home opener at Stambaugh Stadium.
All that was missing was a blindfold and a cigarette.
“It’s been a long time since we won here,” said freshman linebacker Davion Rogers, who wasn’t even on the team when the Penguins defeated Southern Illinois on Sept. 25. “We had to put a stop to that right there.”
Youngstown State scored on its first nine possessions, setting school records for margin of victory, points in a game, total yards and a litany of other marks, including yawns by the winning fans and off-tackle runs in a second half.
Harlem Globetrotters games have more suspense.
“This year, we came out just like we did in the Michigan State game [last week], just like we did in the Penn State game [in last year’s opener],” said sophomore running back Adaris Bellamy, who carried 23 times for 180 yards and two TDs. “We didn’t care who we were playing against or how talented they are, we took them as Michigan State.
“Everyone was so excited to get back on the field, we could have been out there all day. Me and the rest of the players could have gone another two quarters.”
Valparaiso, an FCS non-scholarship team that has lost 22 straight, trailed 35-0 by the time it got a first down. The Crusaders trailed 56-0 by the time they ran a play in YSU’s territory. And yet, amazingly, they actually gave up 12 fewer yards than they did in last week’s loss to Division III member Franklin.
“I told their coach after the game, I thought their kids continued to play hard,” Wolford said. “They’re making progress, even though the score may not show that.”
YSU quarterback Kurt Hess completed 12 of 13 passes for 204 yards — the lone incompletion came on a drop — and two TDs and running back Jamaine Cook rushed 15 times for 126 yards. The Penguin starters played for most of the first half and YSU did not attempt a pass in the second half.
The two biggest positives were YSU’s health (the Penguins did not appear to suffer a serious injury) and its play against Valparaiso’s pass-first, pass-second offense. YSU’s secondary struggled last season and that carried over into last week, allowing Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins to complete 18 of 22 passes for 222 yards.
The Crusaders threw for 175 yards but just 40 came in the first half.
YSU now turns it attention to Missouri Valley play, opening the conference season at home against Illinois State next week.
After winning last year’s conference opener, the Penguins lost their final seven — something Wolford hasn’t forgotten.
“Just because we scored 77 this week doesn’t mean it’s going to have a natural carryover next week,” he said. “I just don’t want to get caught up in one game.
“Next week is conference play and we all know who’s coming to town.”