By scott holland
In order to get its sixth win of the season and keep postseason hopes alive, Youngstown State resorted to a simple game of keep away to knock off Western Illinois 31-7 in Macomb on Saturday.
The Penguins (6-4, 3-4 Missouri Valley) kept the Leatherneck offense off the field and, for the majority of the game, off the scoreboard.
“We had a little issue in October where basically we didn’t have a lot of things go our way,” Youngstown State coach Eric Wolford said. “We stepped back and started taking the approach that we need to control the clock even more than the past and make an effort to stick with the running game more. That’s how Youngstown State has had success, running the football, taking care of the football and time of possession.”
The Penguins dominated all three of those stats, running 82 plays to Western Illinois’ 41, rushing for 225 to the Leathernecks’ 52 and possessing the ball 39 minutes, 52 seconds, compared to Western’s 20:08.
“That makes a big difference in the ballgame,” Wolford said. “Your defense is over there resting and I think sometimes when you’re the team that has the offense sitting on the bench, the longer you sit the more pressure builds and you force things.”
Youngstown State took the lead on a Jamaine Cook 2-yard run with 8:54 left in the first quarter.
Cook had a busy day, running the ball 32 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
“They have some big linemen and a big back, and I think they just wore our defense down,” Western Illinois coach Mark Hendrickson said. “We couldn’t get off the field, then on offense we had too many three and outs.”
Western Illinois tied the game after a David McDaniel interception gave the Leathernecks a short field, setting up quarterback Hayden Northern’s 1-yard run.
Youngstown State took the lead going into halftime on a third and goal Kurt Hess keeper for a touchdown, 39 seconds before intermission.
“It’s always a big deal getting touchdowns instead of field goals; that’s something I learned from Coach [Steve] Spurrier,” Wolford said. “You can kick a lot of field goals and have a lot of yards while doing a lot of good things but it’s only three points.
“At the end of the day, you still need three field goals to beat a touchdown, so we’re going to try and score a touchdown. That’s something we focus on all the time.”
After halftime the Penguins were even more dominant, especially on defense, holding Western Illinois without a first down.
SDLqThey really didn’t make any adjustments or do anything we weren’t expecting; they just have a really good defensive front,” Hendrickson said. “They played a little more Cover 2 to force us to pass, which we did, but we couldn’t get much going.”
The win moves the Penguins to the cusp of the postseason. They need a win next week to be playoff eligible.
“We put ourselves in this situation; we got off to a hot start then in the month of October we had three or four games in a row against difficult teams on the road where we gave a couple games away in that stretch,” Wolford said. “It was tough to stomach, but we had the good fortune last week where a couple teams beat a couple teams that we needed to get beat to keep us alive.
“Next week’s game it’s obviously us or Indiana State for a playoff bid.”