Penguins drop third straight
By joe Scalzo
Youngstown State’s season didn’t end on Saturday.
But it sure felt like it.
Borrowing their script from last week’s loss to Illinois State, the Penguins raced out to an early lead before collapsing in the second half en route to a 38-21 loss to Southern Illinois at Stambaugh Stadium.
“We’ve put ourselves in a huge hole, just like we did last year,” said YSU coach Eric Wolford, whose team led 21-10 with 5:36 left in the second quarter. “It’ll be interesting to see how we respond because we’ve got some games left and they can make a difference.
“But we’ve got our back firmly against the wall right now and we’ve got to go.”
The loss — YSU’s third straight — erases any memories of the Penguins’ 4-0 start. Considering their three Missouri Valley Football Conference losses, it might take a 4-0 finish for the Penguins to make the playoffs.
“We got to do everything in our power to make that change,” said senior defensive tackle Aronde Stanton, who had a monster game with 10 tackles, including 4.5 for loss. “All our goals are still out there. We can still make the playoffs. When we get to the playoffs, it’s whoever’s hot at that time.
“That’s the approach that we’re gonna take and we’re gonna make sure we talk about that on Monday.”
YSU’s much-maligned defense actually had a winning effort, racking up eight tackles for loss and four sacks — both season-highs. It also forced seven SIU punts. But the Penguins’ special teams played poorly and the once-reliable offense was shut out in the second half for the third straight game.
Junior quarterback Kurt Hess, a first-team all-conference selection last season, had his worst game as a Penguin, throwing two interceptions and losing two fumbles — all in the second half.
Two of the turnovers were turned into touchdowns as Tyler Williamson recovered the fumble in the end zone (following a bad, but catchable, snap that Hess bobbled away) and Anthony Thompson returned a interception 100 yards on the game’s penultimate play.
YSU finished with five turnovers. SIU had none.
“That’s terrible,” said senior running back Jamaine Cook of the turnovers. “That’s not Youngstown State football.”
Cook rushed 23 times for 97 yards and three TDs, but SIU shut him down in the second half, holding the Penguins to 26 rushing yards over the final 30 minutes.
The Salukis also blocked a punt for a touchdown for the third straight game. Not coincidentally, they also won their third straight game.
“There’s three phases to every football game and we didn’t play very well, specifically in the second half on offense,” Wolford said. “We played very poorly in the special teams game. We played pretty good on defense.
“We’re not going to make any excuses. We’ll turn the page and move forward.”
That starts next weekend at South Dakota State, which has won four straight in the series.
When asked how he’ll keep his team loose this week, Wolford admitted he wasn’t sure.
“That’s something that I’ll probably think about a lot tonight and early in the morning,” he said. “You know, I’m probably still in shock, quite frankly. I’m very disappointed that we lost that game today.”