on late conversion,
onside kick try
By STEVE WILAJ
In a game that Bo Pelini thought his team didn’t deserve to still be in at the end, quarterback Hunter Wells came up a yard short from tying the game on a 2-point conversion with 32 seconds left.
In the end, it added up to a frustrating 31-29 loss to Illinois State in a top-10 matchup on Saturday night in front of a crowd of 17,715 — one of the largest in recent memory — at Stambaugh Stadium.
“We didn’t play well enough in any phase of the game to win this football game,” Pelini said. “We were lucky to be where we were. We didn’t play well enough, they wanted it more than we did and we didn’t coach well enough. ... It’s disappointing.”
Trailing 31-23 late in the fourth quarter, Wells capped a 10-play drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Martin Ruiz to cut the deficit to two.
The sophomore quarterback then tried to run in the 2-point conversion. Making a diving attempt, it was initially ruled that he crossed the goal line. But the play was reviewed and overturned — the ruling being that Wells’ knee hit down at the 1-yard line.
“It is what it was,” Wells said. “I really don’t have a comment on that.”
The Penguins (3-2, 1-1 Missouri Valley Football Conference) then attempted an onside kick on the following kickoff — and although ISU (4-1, 2-0) was penalized for illegally batting the ball out of bounds — the Redbirds maintained possession and ran out the clock.
“We have to become more consistent as a football team -- offensively, defensively and special teams-wise,” Pelini said “Every guy in that room and every coach in that room. It’s a team loss, believe me. There’s not one thing here or there that you can point the finger to.”
Still, a key play came with six minutes remaining and ISU clinging to a 24-23 lead.
While YSU appeared to be getting the ball back, the Redbirds executed a gutsy fake punt on their own 39. Set up in punt formation on 4th-and-5, Bryce Holm took the direct snap and rushed six yards for a first down.
A few plays later, Marshaun Coprich — the MVFC’s leading rusher — capped the drive with a 19-yard TD run for a 31-23 ISU lead. Coprich finished with 131 yards.
“It was at a part of the game that I thought we had to match them score for score to stay ahead,” Illinois State coach Brock Spack said.
The Penguins shot themselves in the foot for much of the night.
Wells, who finished 18 of 27 for 240 yards and a touchdown, threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Josh Burch in the first quarter. The Penguins committed seven penalties for 90 yards — including a costly defensive holding on third down in the second quarter to set up ISU quarterback Tre Roberson’s 58-yard touchdown run.
Freshman kicker Zak Kennedy, a Cardinal Mooney product, connected on field goals of 24, 36 and 49 yards — the last a career-long that cut YSU’s deficit to 24-23 midway through the fourth quarter. But he also had an extra-point blocked in the first quarter.
It all added up to a sloppy performance in front of a big crowd — making the Penguins’ near miss even more difficult to swallow.
“It’s definitely going to be tough [to bounce back],” YSU defensive back LeRoy Alexander said. “But as a team, we have to grow and go to the next game. We know we’re not gonna get this back, but hopefully we see them down the road.”