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Penguins surge late

Sunday, October 9, 2016

YSU takes charge to win at Illinois State

By Charles Grove

Normal, ill.

Saturday’s fourth quarter for the Youngstown State football team was much different from a week ago.

On Oct. 2, the Penguins let South Dakota hang around. But at Illinois State on Saturday, the Penguins took charge in the final 15 minutes and stepped on the necks of the Redbirds.

The Penguins scored 17 points in the fourth quarter for the 20-6 road win over Illinois State to blow apart what was a tense game for three quarters.

Tevin McCaster amassed 72 of his 81 rushing yards in the final quarter, including a touchdown run to put the game out of reach.

YSU (4-1, 2-0 Missouri Valley Football Conference) never allowed Illinois State (2-4, 0-3) into the end zone no matter how close the Redbirds got to the goal line.

“It was a better performance — it was cleaner,” YSU head coach Bo Pelini said. “There’s still a lot more out there for our team, but we played well on the road against a well-coached, physical team.

“We had to earn it and I thought we did.”

The game appeared to be a contest of who had the better punter in the first half. Neither team crossed midfield until the second quarter. YSU finally struck first when Zak Kennedy hit a 42-yard field goal 10 seconds before halftime to give YSU a 3-0 lead.

The Redbirds came back in the third quarter, and if not for a few key holds by the defense, the Penguins might have been chasing a victory until the final gun.

True freshman running back James Robinson broke free for a 43-yard run to the YSU 5 as Nate Dortch chased him down to prevent the touchdown. The Penguins held and the Redbirds had to settle for a game-tying field goal.

“It was a big hustle play by Nate Dortch,” Pelini said. “It gave us another chance to line up again and holding them to a field goal was really big for us.”

A similar play happened again a few minutes later when Jamal Towns was brought down at the YSU 8 after a 15-yard run — this time with LeRoy Alexander making the stop.

The defense held again, forcing another short field goal.

From there, the Penguins began pounding the ball right at Illinois State and the Redbirds could do little to stop them.

Between the third and fourth quarters, YSU ground out a 17-play, 91-yard drive that ended with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Ricky Davis to Alvin Bailey on third-and-five. It was Davis’ best throw of the day.

“We guessed right that they were going to bring an all-out blitz and we could get the one-on-one matchup,” Pelini said. “The coverage wasn’t bad. It was a back-shoulder fade throw and Ricky put the ball where it needed to be.”

Two drives later, McCaster broke off a 56-yard run to get down to the ISU 3. Two plays later, he found the end zone to erase all doubt.

Illinois State head coach Brock Spack said YSU’s press coverage was a big reason his team couldn’t muster a response.

“They’re very good pass coverage guys,” Spack said. “They don’t have to blitz a lot because of their defensive line and that makes it a lot of fun to play defense like that.”

Davis said YSU was able to make changes at halftime and most of the struggles offensively were due to some different looks from the Redbirds.

“We had a lot of adjustments because they were showing us a lot of things we hadn’t seen before,” Davis said. “But we were able to spread out the defense and make them choose between stopping me, Jody [Webb] or Martin [Ruiz].”