By Joe Scalzo
After missing two weeks with a concussion, Youngs-town State sophomore linebacker Travis Williams was eager to get back on the field.
Playing for the White team, Williams made seven tackles in the first quarter and finished with a team-best 10 as YSU’s starting defense had its best performance of the spring in a 28-14 loss in the Penguins’ annual Red-White game Friday at Stambaugh Stadium.
“It felt like I was gone a long time,” said Williams, a Miami (Fla.) transfer who started all 11 games at Will linebacker last fall. “My players on the front line missed me, so I just came back with a lot of energy.”
After getting victimized in the first two scrimmages, YSU’s starting defense held its own against an offense that returns all 11 starters.
The Red team, which had the starting offense, scored on two of its first three possessions but was then held scoreless on its next two possessions before adding a third TD just before halftime.
It wasn’t a shutout, but it was progress.
“Today we played very well — actually better than we thought we’d do on defense,” Williams said. “It’s not about what the offense does. We all know they’re good. It’s about how the defense is gonna react in the game that keeps them in [it] in the fourth quarter.”
Starting QB Kurt Hess was 11 of 19 for 154 yards and two touchdowns before taking a seat in the second half. Junior Jordan Thompson led all rushers with 67 yards on 14 carries, including a 17-yard TD through the middle of the defense that gave the Red team a 7-0 lead on the opening drive.
Wideout Jelani Berassa caught four passes for 82 yards and a TD, while tight end Carson Sharbaugh and WR Kevin Watts also caught TD passes.
“We didn’t come out as sharp as I would have liked,” said Hess. “We made some good plays. There were some things I wasn’t necessarily pleased with but we’re getting there.”
Backup cornerback Jimmy May Jr. had the game’s lone interception, picking off Patrick Angle in the second quarter. The Red team fumbled twice but recovered both.
Splitting time between the Red and White offense, Angle completed 11 of 22 passes for 155 yards and a TD. Torrian Pace led the White offense with 12 carries for 51 yards and Andrew Williams had nine catches for 135 yards. Backup linebacker Dubem Nwadiogbu had a White-best six tackles, including 1.5 for loss.
“I think we’re making progress,” YSU coach Eric Wolford said. “I think anytime you stand out here and hear pads popping, that means we’re actually trying to hit some people.”
Williams admitted the defense is still learning new defensive coordinator Joe Tresey’s system and said the team faces a crucial offseason.
“We’ve still got some learning to do but we’re further than we were last year and that’s all that matters,” he said.
“Our defense is running around and flying to the ball,” Berassa said. “They’re still learning but we still got a long summer so everyone can learn what they’re doing and we can play a little faster.
“We’ve got the new defense in, we got some crinkles out of the offense and now we’ve just got to keep practicing, keep working, keep grinding and perfect it, so we can hit the Pitt game running.”