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Quarterback Mays gets one final snap

YOUNGSTOWN — Illinois State’s football team had started to make its way onto the field as the final seconds began to tick off Saturday in its matchup with Youngstown State.

Then, the whistle blew. Timeout, YSU.

It was an odd stoppage considering the Penguins were leading, 21-3. The crowd began to bustle, and then a hobbled player emerged from YSU’s sideline. It was fifth-year senior quarterback Nathan Mays.

With two big linemen on each side, Mays, who suffered a gruesome, season-ending leg injury three weeks ago against North Dakota State, was being carried onto the field. He limped his way under center, took the final snap of the game and gingerly took a knee.

The touching scene wasn’t exactly the way Mays wanted to end his career, but the former starting quarterback was happy he was at least on the field.

“A lot of people probably thought I was just joking around, but I said if we were up multiple scores at halftime, I was going to bring the pads out,” Mays said. “Once it got closer and closer, it just started flying by, I didn’t know if I had the guts to actually ask if I could do it. When I went up to (YSU coach Bo Pelini), he was all about it.

“It was pretty crazy. It didn’t hit me until I actually did it, and I saw my dad in tears. It was pretty special.”

Mays was a steady force throughout his career, as a starter and a backup, when he was healthy.

He suffered several injuries but still managed to throw 20 touchdowns compared to seven interceptions. He also completed 61 percent of his passes and ran for 990 yards and 10 TDs.

“I’ve had a career that didn’t pan out exactly the way I wanted,” Mays said. “We had success early when I was here. I had personal success that didn’t always translate to the team. I would’ve given anything to flip that around. Being able to end the season on a high note like this, and for me to go out, standing in front of so many people and kind of take in the full experience of what just happened. Great ending.”

COMING OR GOING: Defensive end Justus Reed is only a junior, but there’s a chance this was his last game as a Penguin.

Reed, who transferred from the University of Florida, had two redshirt seasons because of injuries (at Florida and YSU), so this was his sixth year playing football. He’s only considered a junior from an eligibility standpoint, but he’s 24-years-old and there’s a chance he could be drafted, or picked up as an undrafted free agent, if he decides to forgo his senior season.

He has 12.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss this year.

“I’ve got to talk to my family about it,” he said of returning. “Coming into this game, that’s what it was looking like (returning to YSU). I’ve really just got to sit and talk to my family and obviously see what the coaches are thinking and go from there.”

MILESTONE VICTORY: Pelini picked up his 100th career victory with the win.

Pelini is now 100-55 in his career (.596 winning percentage), with 67 of those victories coming at Nebraska, where he led the Huskers for seven seasons. He is 33-28 at YSU.

The Penguins were happy to secure No. 100 for him, even though some of them didn’t know it.

“That’s huge. That’s awesome,” senior running back Joe Alessi said. “I honestly didn’t know about it until after the game, and once I found out, I’m like, ‘That’s amazing. That’s awesome.’ To end my career at Youngstown State and have him get his 100th win is just awesome.”