The Youngstown State University football team was last at Heinz Field in 2009. In that contest, the goal was to score and make it to the bus with half the team able to walk. The result was a 38-3 beating. Fast forward to 2012, Eric Wolford‘s first shot at the Panthers.
The Penguins recovered an early fumble, marched the field, and never trailed in a 31-17 dismantling of D-I Pittsburgh in what can be considered the biggest win in the Wolford Era. Kurt Hess looked masterful in running an offense everyone thought could produce, but it was the defense that played with a chip on their shoulders and forced the issue in the upset.
The game was delayed by inclement weather for a half hour, but when it finally started, it was obvious that YSU was in Pittsburgh to do more than take a check home and hopefully score some points.
“We expect to win”, said Wolford. “This win is a compliment to our staff, our players, and the community. We demand perfection, coach hard, and know it is a high standard at YSU, to win championships.”
In the first quarter, with the Panthers driving, the YSU defense did something that it hasn’t done in one of these D-I games, create a turnover. Pitt’s Ray Graham was tackled by YSU’s Dubem Nwadiogbu, who popped the ball out. Jeremy Edwards picked the pigskin up and advanced it a few yards before YSU’s offense would take the field.
Kurt Hess (above) and the Penguin offense went to work and put together a productive 10-play, 79-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown. Hess found Andre Stubbs on a short route that the redshirt freshman turned into a 27-yard touchdown reception. With the extra point, the Penguins took a 7-0 lead.
Pitt would respond with a touchdown of their own on their next drive when Isaac Bennett capped off an 11-play, 75-yard drive with a four-yard rush to paydirt. Early in the drive, Pitt QB Tino Sunseri made a good pass to Devin Street on a 3rd-and-8 to keep the drive going.
The resilient Penguins would march again, this time covering 92 yards in 15 plays. Shane Montgomery, the Penguins offensive coordinator, did a fantastic job of calling plays that kept the Pitt defense on their heels all afternoon. The Penguins touchdown was a nice 14-yard strike from Hess to Will Shaw to give YSU a 14-7 lead.
“The play calling was great”, said Hess. “It was a very efficient game plan and we were able to execute it.”
Pitt would drive again, but had to settle for a Kevin Harper 33-yard field goal. That would make the score at the end of the first half YSU 14 and Pitt 10.
In the second half, YSU took the opening kickoff and marched down the field, aided by a 15-yard facemask penalty. On a fourth-and -1 play on the Pitt 24, YSU went to the bag of tricks and Jamaine Cook took a pitch to the right side and backed up to fire a little pass to Shaw, who had nobody ten yards around him, for an easy six. David Brown‘s extra point gave the Penguins a 21-10 lead.
“That play is called Penguin”, explained Wolford. “We practiced it this week and knew we would use it when we had a chance on a fourth-and-short situation.”
What happened on Pitt’s next drive may define the Penguins season. The defense stuffed Pitt on a fourth-and-1 deep in YSU territory. It was Tevin Williams and Travis Williams stuffing the play to give the Penguins the ball back with 5:55 remaining in the third quarter.
“Anytime it’s fourth down, on either side of the ball, it is a big play,” said senior Aronde Stanton. “On the play we stuffed them, I was out with cramps and two sophomores stepped in and got the job done.”
From there, Montgomery used Hess to carry out a drive that would cover 78 yards, but more importantly, result in a touchdown that would kill 8:34 of the game clock and boost the Penguins lead to 28-10. The drive ended when Stubbs gathered his second touchdown of the game, a 13-yard run.
When Pitt got the ball back they used several short plays in hurry-up mode and looked in a hurry to get all 18 points they trailed by throwing some unsuccessful deep balls. Tino Sunseri missed an open receiver in the end zone by a bit. On the next play, YSU hurried Sunseri to set up a third-and-10. The senior quarterback would connect with Joshua Brinson to cut the deficit to 28-17.
With control of the game, the Penguins got the ball back on their 25 with 9:17 left to play. The YSU offense had to chew clock and get a few first downs. Facing a 3rd-and-4 with six minutes left, the Penguins Stubbs broke loose and took the ball all the way to the Pitt 22. Wolford the starting doing exactly what he said he would do – substitute fresh capable bodies. Torrian Pace was inserted and had two five yard runs.
The drive stalled and YSU settled for a FG from Brown, a 25-yarder that would close the scoring with YSU ahead 31-17.
“We all thought we could do this”, said Stubbs. “I knew coming in that I would have a chance to make some plays. We have to stay humble now because we still have ten games to play.”
Stubbs finished the game with six carries for 71 yards and four receptions for 61 yards with one touchdown in each category.
“Andre Stubbs was too short for most schools to recruit”, said Wolford. “We don’t recruit based on size, we look at the films.”
Hess had a strong game, more than statistically, as a leader of a machine. Hess finished the game 13-23 for 154 yards and a pair of TD’s. He also had 9 rushes for 47 yards and just made good decisions for four quarters.
Dale Peterman had nine unassisted tackles for the Penguins. Teven Williams chipped in with seven tackles. The Penguins defense did a fantastic job of keeping the Ray Graham / Isaac Bennett combination in check for the majority of the game. New defensive coordinator Jm Tresey also deserves credit for being aggressive and cleverly scheming against Pitt.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed in the outcome of the game”, said first year Pitt head coach Paul Chryst. “My hat goes off to Youngstown State. They are very well coached and tonight they were the better team.”
The Penguins will have their home opener next Saturday when they welcome Valparaiso to Stambaugh Stadium. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m.