Youngstown State University has been exceptional at jumping out to a lead all year. Saturday, the Penguins scored first for the fifth time this season. Unfortunately, they rarely score last and that formula held true again as North Dakota State (4-2, 1-2) rallied to take a lead with under a minute left in the game, giving up a 45-yard touchdown to fall 34-29.
The Penguins took the opening drive deep into North Dakota State territory but had to settle on a 43-yard Stephen Blose field goal. The field goal came at the 10:45 mark of the first quarter.
With 6:49 left in the first quarter, YSU found the end zone. Kurt Hess plopped in on a quarterback keeper from two yards away to increase the Penguin lead to 10-0. The drive was set up when David Rach recovered a fumble from Bison QB Brock Jensen at the NDSU 37-yard line. The Penguins covered the 37 yards in 5 plays over a 2:28 stretch.
North Dakota State got on the scoreboard on the first play of the second quarter when DJ McNorton caught a 4-yard pass from Jose Mohler. Mohler replaced Jensen who left the game with a collarbone injury. The Bison drove 50 yards in seven plays to make it 10-7.
The Penguins responded when Mr. Excitement, Dominique Barnes, caught a Hess long ball that covered 50 yards. The duo (pictured) would hook up seven times for 117 yards in the first half. With the touchdown the Penguins took back a ten-point advantage.
The advantage would not last very long. North Dakota State scored on their next possession to make it a 17-14 Penguin lead. Derrick Lang punched it in from a yard away capping off an 80-yard drive. North Dakota State then claimed the lead with their next possession to take a 21-17 lead with 4:55 remaining in the first half. Mike Sigers broke a big run (below) for a 56-yard touchdown to give the Bison their first lead of the game.
Blose got the Penguins to a one-point deficit with a 24-yard field goal. At the half, the Penguins trailed the Bison 21-20.
On their first drive of the second half, the Bison went 62 yards in six plays to extend their lead to 28-20. The drive was capped off when Mohler found Matt Veldman for a five yard touchdown with 11:47 left in the third quarter.
YSU squandered chances on their next couple of drives. Kevin Watts found some space on a reverse that went left but was stripped on the Penguin 49. On their next drive, the Penguins faced a third down and twenty situation. Hess hit Barnes on the right sideline and YSU picked up a personal foul to put YSU on the Bison six. Adaris Bellamy ran hard through a hole but fumbled just before he crossed the plane. The ball squirted out of the end zone and North Dakota State took over on their own twenty in an unpopular ruling with the crowd.
The Penguin defense rose to the challenge and Stephen Meadows sacked Mohler forcing a punt. Bellamy came back out like a man possessed and carried the Penguins the majority of the way to score on a two-yard jaunt. Bellamy did a great job of setting up blocks with steps and cuts of precision. His balance and vision looked good and he topped the 100-yard plateau on the drive. The Penguins, trailing 28-26, opted for a two-point conversion attempt. On the chance, Hess through the ball to the back of the end zone where the ball was caught by Juilian Harrell, but Harrell could not get a foot down. As a result, the Bison held a 28-26 fourth quarter lead.
North Dakota State drove all the way to YSU’s six-yard line, but again the Penguin defense was up to the challenge. The Bison had to settle for a Ryan Jastram 25-yard field goal attempt that missed the mark to the right. The Penguins took over and rode the hot hand of Bellamy. On a crucial third-and-six, Hess threw for Barnes who tipped the ball to himself and managed to catch it on a spectacular grab to keep the drive alive at the Bison 26 with 1:08 left to go in a 28-26 game.
Stephen Blose had the stage set for a 38-yard field goal attempt to give the Penguins a 29-28 lead with :51 seconds left in the game. The Penguins ate 4:34 up on the drive. North Dakota State got a big return to their own 41. A defensive holding penalty gave the Bison the ball on the Penguin 45 with :42 left on the clock.
Dustin Howard hauled in a backbreaker from Mohler covering 45 yards putting North Dakota State ahead 34-29. NDSU went for a two-point conversion unsuccessfully setting the stage for Hail Mary central, but Kurt Hess fumbled and never really had a chance. NDSU took over and ran the remaining time off of the clock to preserve their win.
The Penguins were led by Adaris Bellamy on the ground with 158 yards on 21 carries. Kurt Hess was 22-31 for 252 yards and Dominique Barnes caught 10 balls for 151 yards.
The Bison got good efforts from Jose Mohler who ended up 11-14 for 192 yards. DJ McNorton gained 90 yards on 17 carries and also caught 6 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown.
After the game, Barnes dejectedly addressed the media. ”They played a good game and fought back. We watched the film and used what we saw. Any loss is a tough loss, this one is really hard. You have to win the turnover margin, and we did not do that today. We have to come back Monday and get ready for next week.”
Adaris Bellamy shared the frustration. ”I think I was in or down, but it’s on the referee. It was real fulfilling to take the lead. Coaches tell us to leave everything on the field. This game I truly believe I left everything on the field. We lost it for ourselves, they had one more big play than we did in the end and that was the difference in the game.”
Coach Eric Wolford also assessed what he saw. ”When you kick the ball off, it should be in the end zone, not the thirty yard line. Last week we gave a game away, this week we gave a game away. Give them credit, they found a way. We continue to give football games away with useless penalties and until we make a decision to rid that, we can’t win. It is a problem when the kickoffs fall short of the 20. It is the kicker’s only job to kick the ball in the end zone, we couldn’t do that today, expect changes.“
The Penguins dropped to 3-3 and 1-2 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The Penguins head to Western Illinois in Macomb, Illinois to take a shot at rebounding from the last two devastating losses.