Turnovers hurt as YSU’s skid hits 4
By Terry Vandrovec
No. 22 Youngstown State turned over the ball and control of its season Saturday, falling 41-28 to South Dakota State in Missouri Valley Football Conference action before a crowd of 14,966 at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium.
That makes four consecutive losses for the Penguins, the slide officially erasing all of the leeway earned in a 4-0 start. Even if they run the table, they’ll have no better than an outside shot at earning a berth in the Football Championship Subdivision postseason. That’s not what they had in mind when reaching No. 3 in the polls, their highest standing in 11 years.
“Now, I think our focus needs to be on taking care of Youngstown State,” third-year coach Eric Wolford said. “The turnovers are the glaring thing. You just can’t turn the ball over like that over and over again and expect to have a chance to win when you’re playing good football teams.”
Yes, the turnovers were a part of it as was the case in the three previous losses. YSU (4-4, 1-4) committed three and created just one, although that was returned for a touchdown by defensive tackle Aronde Stanton. The Penguins put up the final 21 points, ending a run of three consecutive weeks without a second-half score.
But this time, the first half was the problem. The Jackrabbits put up 28 points in the second quarter, their largest outburst in a single frame since 2008. Two of those touchdowns were set up by YSU turnovers — Kurt Hess interceptions. Another followed a botched snap on a punt.
SDSU (6-2, 4-2) pushed its advantage to 41-7 on its first offensive play of the second half, when quarterback Austin Sumner hit Aaron Rollin for a 49-yard score. It was part of a breakout day for the Jackrabbits’ passing attack, which had yet to break even the 200-yard mark this season. The sophomore Sumner topped that in the first half against the Penguins and finished 19 of 28 for 351 yards with a career-high five touchdowns.
For the first time this season, he looked like the reigning MVFC freshman of the year.
“We really emphasized starting, and I think that’s what we did,” the 6-foot-5 Sumner said. “I was excited about that, and it just unraveled from there.”
Just one week after failing to reach the end zone in a 27-6 loss at Northern Iowa, SDSU torched YSU, which came in ranked last in the MVFC in pass defense. The Jackrabbits are now 5-0 against the Penguins since joining the conference with four of those wins coming by double digits.
“From the sideline, it looked like in the first half we were kind of almost running in sand,” Wolford said, “I don’t know if it was the grass, I don’t know if it was just not being ready to play. I felt like all week even coming into today, I felt good about us being ready to play.”
It took until midway through the third quarter for YSU to find its footing on the only natural grass field in the MVFC. Hess hit Christian Bryan for a 5-yard score on third-and-goal to give the Penguins their first points since pulling to 7-7 late in the first quarter. A little more than 5 minutes later, Jamarious Boatwright picked off a pass that Rollin bobbled and quickly flipped it to Stanton, who ran 19 yards for a score.
Things might have been interesting in the final minutes if YSU hadn’t fumbled at the SDSU 21-yard line late in the third or turned it over on downs at the Jackrabbitss’ 17 in the middle of the fourth.
Instead, it was too late.
“At halftime, we challenged our guys a little bit and told them it was unacceptable the way we were playing in all three phases,” said Wolford, who is 6-15 in conference games. “We came back and responded a little bit, showed signs of life, which is encouraging, but at the end of the day it was still a loss and we’re not going to make any excuses about it.”