Penguins come from behind to down Salukis
By Joe scalzo
East Carbondale, Ill.
With Al Pacino’s “inches speech” from “Any Given Sunday” playing on the videoboard and Youngstown State down six points with a fourth-and-goal at the Southern Illinois 1, everyone in Saluki Stadium expected the Penguins to try to pound their way to victory in the closing minutes of Saturday’s game.
And that was the point.
With the Salukis’ defense sucked in, YSU quarterback Kurt Hess faked a handoff and found tight end Carson Sharbaugh in the back of the end zone for the go-ahead score with 1:50 remaining.
YSU’s defense — which pitched a second-half shutout after an awful first 30 minutes — made the score hold up when linebacker Teven Williams stripped SIU’s all-world tight end MyCole Pruitt at the YSU 44 and safety Donald D’Alesio recovered, allowing the Penguins to run out the clock on a huge 28-27 victory.
“Originally, the play wasn’t even designed for me; it’s designed for [TE] Nate [Adams],” Sharbaugh said. “Kurt did a good job of finding me.
“Like you saw, they bit hard on that run because we were running it all night and I was open in the back of the end zone for the score.”
Although it’s too early to call it a season-defining win, it was notable because it showed the Penguins could respond to adversity, something that didn’t happen during last year’s 0-for-October stretch that cost YSU a chance at the playoffs.
Trailing 27-14 at halftime Saturday, YSU’s seniors repeated the same mantra: stick together.
“We’ve been stressing it since Day 1 of camp: handling adversity,” Sharbaugh said. “If we want to be a championship team, if we want to make the playoffs and win our conference and win a national championship and meet our goals, we’re going to have to handle adversity.
“I think we did a great job of that tonight.”
Hess played one of the best games of his career, completing 25 of 37 passes for 258 yards and four TDs for YSU (4-1, 1-0 Missouri Valley).
Freshman Martin Ruiz added 87 yards on 20 carries, including six carries for 41 yards on the final drive as the Penguins went 83 yards in 16 plays and chewed up 6:07 off the clock.
YSU also got a little lucky as the Salukis dropped interceptions on back-to-back plays at one point during the final drive.
“We made some plays there at the end,” Hess said. “The O-line started protecting pretty well and we started moving the ball well on the ground, so I’m proud of them. Guys made plays for me out there.
“The plane ride [home] will be a little better.”
Southern Illinois quarterback Kory Faulkner looked like Peyton Manning in the first half, completing 21 of 28 for 278 yards and four TDs with 41 yards rushing. But he seemed to tighten up in the fourth quarter, misfiring on some key throws. He finished 28 of 43 for 348 yards.
And SIU (2-3), which usually has some of the best special teams in the conference, was victimized by that unit thanks to a missed extra point on its fourth touchdown, which came just nine seconds before halftime.
“Football is a 60-minute game,” YSU coach Eric Wolford said. “It’s not a 30-minute game. If you think you’re out of it, you’re out of it. We believed [at halftime] we were still in the ballgame.
“This is a big win but we’ve got another road game next week [against Indiana State], so we have a quick turnaround. We’ve got to stay focused on what we can control and play a 60-minute football game and we’ll have a chance.”