Youngstown State survives upset bid by Albany to improve to 3-0
By Joe Scalzo
Whenever Youngstown State coach Eric Wolford is asked about going for it on fourth down, he shrugs and says, “Seven is worth more than three.”
On Saturday, that went nicely with another football truism: “There’s nothing worse than six-point lead.”
Late in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game against Albany, Wolford faced a fourth-and-goal at the Great Danes’ 1. Penguin senior Jamaine Cook had managed just 2 yards over the previous three plays, so Wolford was faced with a choice: 7 or 3?
“I was gonna make it a two-score game,” Wolford said. “I’m not here to kick a field goal and let them get 7 and have it not work for us.”
And so, on fourth down, he turned to 225-pound junior Torrian Pace, who got stuffed in the middle of the line, bounced it left and found an opening for the touchdown with 2:48 left. YSU then survived an Albany field goal drive and an unsuccessful onside kick to escape with a 31-24 victory at Stambaugh Stadium.
Albany, a partial-scholarship FCS team from the Northeast Conference, put a massive scare into a crowd of nearly 16,000, taking advantage of several YSU miscues to stay within a touchdown for most of the game. In fact, the Great Danes handed the Penguins their first turnover (a fumble by YSU TE Will Shaw on YSU’s first possession), their first sack and their first deficit of the season.
The latter came on their first offensive play, with Albany QB Will Fiacchi hitting a wide open Cole King for a 44-yard touchdown off a flea flicker. Over the next 55 minutes, the Great Danes relied on an aggressive game plan heavy on misdirection to roll up 338 yards.
“They’re a really athletic team with lots of speed and what you want to do against athletic teams is get them going one way, then go back the other way,” said Fiacchi, who finished 23 of 35 for 228 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. “That approach was pretty successful the whole game.”
Cook carried 33 times for 161 yards and three TDs to lead the Penguins, who improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2005.
But YSU needed a little luck to do it.
After shutting out Albany in the third quarter, the Great Danes opened the fourth quarter with a first down at the YSU 46. Senior tailback Drew Smith ran a go route down the middle of YSU’s defense and got several steps on his defender. Fiacchi hit him in the hands at the 17 and ... Smith dropped it.
When asked about the drop, Wolford pointed out that he had three pastors standing on YSU’s sidelines.
“We had the full crew down there,” said Wolford, “and it worked out.”
YSU QB Kurt Hess completed 15 of 22 passes for 183 yards but it was YSU’s defense and special teams that made the biggest plays down the stretch. Junior LB Ali Cheaib added his second blocked punt in as many weeks — it set up Pace’s game-winning TD — and junior DE Kyle Sirl made two third-down sacks in the second half as YSU’s defense held Albany to two field goals after halftime.
“Obviously, it’s nice to know we can play teams of this caliber but in the end we’re not there to play them tight,” Fiacchi said. “We’re there to get the win. Today, we couldn’t get it done.”