Redbirds run over Penguins in season finale

Redbirds run

for 332 yards

Staff report


Youngstown State led by a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, but Illinois State found the end zone twice to close out the Penguins’ season with a 35-28 defeat Saturday.

YSU ends the season 4-7 with a 3-5 mark in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Bo Pelini ends his first contract as the Penguins’ head coach with a 27-22 record, which includes an appearance in the Football Championship Subdivision national championship in 2016. The 2018 season marks the second losing season in Pelini’s 11-year career as a head coach. The first was a 5-6 mark in his first season at YSU.

Pelini’s future remains uncertain with his current deal expiring in February. He has repeatedly said he won’t hold discussions about his contract with the school until the season is over. Pelini became YSU’s head coach in 2015 after he was fired by Nebraska.

The Penguins conceded 332 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. The bulk of that went to the Redbirds’ James Robinson, who finished with 256 yards and two scores. Kevin Brown added 41 yards and scored his team’s final two touchdowns.

“We were soft and we didn’t play well for 60 minutes. Missed assignments. ... Defensively our tackling was atrocious,” Pelini said. “I’ve never been this disgusted about a defensive performance in my life. The missed tackles. When you play uninspired football, that’s what’s going to happen.”

Trailing 14-13 at halftime, senior quarterback Montgomery VanGorder was benched in favor of junior Nathan Mays after going 5 for 13 for 23 yards and an interception. He also had a second-quarter fumble that put the Redbirds at YSU’s 3. One play later, Brady Davis threw a touchdown pass to to Tylor Petkovich.

Two Zak Kennedy field goals and a 1-yard touchdown run out of the wildcat from Tevin McCaster kept the Penguins alive in the first half. After Robinson’s second touchdown in early in the third quarter, YSU tied the game with Mays’ 10-yard TD pass to Ryan Emans and a jet sweep from Natavious Payne.

With 13-12 left to play, Mays found tight end Miles Joiner behind the entire Illinois State defense on a 58-yard touchdown pass and the Penguins went up 28-21.

Robinson was injured in the fourth quarter, so the Redbirds (6-5, 3-5, MVFC), turned to Brown, who had no carries all season. Illinois State responded to the Joiner touchdown with a two-minute, 82-yard drive ending with Brown’s first touchdown. He added another after a YSU three-and-out.

The Penguins’ final four drives were a three-and-out, a Mays interception and two more three-and-outs.

“Our offense played inconsistent like they have all year,” Pelini said. “We lost the football game because we didn’t play well enough. We didn’t deserve to win.”

Mays went 6 of 16 for 99 yards with two TDs and a pick in relief of VanGorder and also rushed for 61 yards. McCaster rushed for 142 yards and a TD. On defense, linebacker Armand Dellovade finished with 11 tackles, including four for losses.

Illinois State attempted 20 passes, with Davis completing eight for 88 yards. The Redbirds snapped a four-game losing streak.

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