James Madison too much for YSU
By Charles Grove
After so many comebacks this season throughout the regular season and playoffs, one final come-from-behind victory for the Youngstown State Penguins wasn’t in the cards as the Penguins fell 28-14 to James Madison in the FCS national championship game.
YSU found trouble early and often. After a three-and-out on its first possession, Mark Schuler’s punt was blocked, setting up an easy first score for the Dukes. Bryan Schor found Jonathan Kloosterman for a 14-yard touchdown pass.
After another three-and-out, Schuler’s next punt went only 20 yards, setting up another easy drive when Schor found Rashard Davis from 18 yards out four plays later.
Before six minutes came off the clock, the Penguins trailed 14-0.
“It’s a tough way to start,” YSU head coach Bo Pelini said. “You don’t want to start that way where you’re fighting uphill all day. We’ve been in positions like that before during this playoff run, but we weren’t able to overcome it today.”
Mistakes continued to mount as a botched snap on a field goal, a wild interception that bounced off wide receiver Damoun Patterson’s foot, and a snap that sailed over everyone’s head in the third quarter when YSU was driving near the red zone all combined to seal YSU’s fate.
“We hurt ourselves a lot,” YSU offensive tackle Justin Spencer said. “We had an off day on offense. They shut us down all day.”
Jody Webb was the most obvious player JMU (14-1) shut down. The senior tailback, who carried the offensive load for much of YSU’s playoff run, was limited to just 41 yards on 17 carries.
“I think [my struggles] had everything to do with positions we were in,” Webb said. “When you’re in positions where you can’t call certain things, it’s hard to put yourself in better positions.”
Quarterback Hunter Wells was forced to work in many lengthy down-and-distance scenarios. He was 28 of 47 for 271 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He was also sacked five times as JMU brought pressure in obvious passing downs.
“They were so fast and athletic I don’t think we executed as well as we wanted to,” YSU center Vitas Hrynkiewicz said. “We could’ve done a lot better, but credit to them because they’re a phenomenal team.”
YSU’s defense kept the Penguins in the game, forcing the Dukes to punt eight times, but JMU was effective when needed. Schor completed 7 of 12 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns while running back Khalid Abdullah — JMU’s career-touchdown leader — ran for 101 yards and scored JMU’s other two TDs.
“We had some opportunities but we didn’t take advantage of them,” Pelini said. “We settled in after those two short-field positions to start the game.”
YSU (12-4) ends the season with a sour taste in its mouth after a six-game winning steak clinched a playoff berth and a spot in Texas.
“[Mistakes] are part of the game,” Pelini said. “We had a couple of balls not bounce very well for us. It’s the way the game is played. These are young kids. You don’t want it to happen, but it happens sometimes.”