By Joe Scalzo
If you’re looking for metaphors for Youngstown State’s season, you could find a pretty good one on the Penguins’ final defensive play Saturday.
YSU senior defensive tackle Aronde Stanton broke through, fell down and just tried to hold on until help arrived.
For Stanton, it came in the form of defensive end Josh Fenderson, who finished off a fourth-down combo sack of South Dakota quarterback Josh Vander Maten in the game’s final minutes. For the Penguins, it came in the form of a 13-10 homecoming win, which not only ended their four-game losing streak but may have saved their season.
“It’s one of those ugly ones,” said YSU coach Eric Wolford, who has too many good-looking losses on his resume to complain. “Obviously, we’ll take it.”
Senior running back Jamaine Cook carried 42 times (to put that in perspective, consider that the Coyotes ran 44 plays — total) for 203 yards and a touchdown as the Penguins (5-4, 2-4) survived a missed extra point, a blocked field goal and some last-minute tension to win for the first time since September.
“Last week we talked about hitting rock bottom,” said senior tackle D.J. Main. “I think after losing four straight, we truly hit rock bottom and we had to respond one way.
“It feels good, there’s no doubt about it. It’s a month overdue.”
Youngstown State led 6-0 at halftime on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Hess to Nate Adams, then took a 13-0 lead early in the third quarter on Cook’s 1-yard TD run. South Dakota’s Kevin Robb made a 37-yard field goal late in the third, but the Penguins were still in control until early in the fourth.
Facing fourth-and-4 at the South Dakota 28, the field goal-averse Wolford called on David Brown to attempt a 45-yarder, his first attempt since Week 3. The play took too long — “The operation time was not efficient,” were Wolford’s words — and USD free safety Aaron Swift got a good rush off the edge to get a hand on the kick, which caromed backward.
The Coyotes (1-8, 0-6) took over at the YSU 47, gained 25 yards on first down (thanks to a 10-yard run by Vander Maten and a 15-yard personal foul on Dale Peterman), then cut the deficit to three on Jasper Sanders’ 22-yard run up the middle with 10:13 left.
After a YSU punt, the Coyotes took over at their own 25 with 6:09 left and converted two third downs before Stanton and Fenderson’s sack with 1:16 remaining.
“We were going back and forth about what we were going to do on that play,” said Stanton, who grabbed Vander Maten’s ankles and held on until Fenderson arrived. “I came to [defensive line] Coach [Tom] Sims and [defensive coordinator Joe] Tresey and said, ‘Let the D-line just rush them.’ We wanted to win the game.
“Thankfully, we had that chance. They trusted us to make a play.”
Now the Penguins head on the road for a winnable game against Western Illinois before the finale at home against Indiana State. Two wins would leave them tied with the Sycamores at 7-4.
That might be enough to sneak into the playoffs.
“We know if we don’t win the rest of these games ... we have no chance,” Stanton said. “We have to take it day-by-day and focus on the team we’re playing that week and try to get a W.
“If we do, ultimately everything else should fall into place.”