Youngstown State University entered their game with Northern Iowa 1-0 when there was a rain delay (Pitt). YSU also entered the game riding an 11-game losing streak to UNI. When the clouds yielded, the teams were both granted 45 minutes to stretch out and warm up before the kickoff. The delay lasted 45 minutes and about 3/4 of the announced crowd of 19,277 (largest in Stambaugh Stadium history) was noisy. When the smoke cleared, the Penguins ended the losing streak and kept the rain-delay streak alive with a dramatic 42-35 win over Northern Iowa.
The Penguins stopped a last-minute threat by the Panthers offense to preserve the win and improve to 4-0 and 1-0 in MVFC play. NIU had the ball at the YSU 11 and a fourth down pass to the end zone resulted in an incompletion. YSU Coach Eric Wolford said they noticed NIU would run a pick play.
“We saw it on films and told the refs to look for it at some critical juncture in the game”, said Wolford.
“Our crowd proved to be a difference and that is what we expect around here.”, remarked Eric Wolford. “Right now we are 4-0 on all of our assignments, the guy upstairs is watching out for us.”
Youngstown State took the opening kickoff and put together a drive filled with a little of everything. There was a reverse, a dive, a couple of tight end pass-plays out of tight formations, an option, a sweep, and a touchdown too. Jamaine Cook capped off the Shane Montgomery masterpiece at the 10:00 mark of the first quarter. The twelve-play drive covered 73 yards.
On Northern Iowa’s first possession, the Panthers struck on a 32-yard pass play to tie the game. After converting a third down, Sawyer Kollmorgen hit Terrell Sinkfield with a bubble screen on the left hash. Sinkfield caught the ten yard pass and made a nifty move through the Penguins secondary on the touchdown. The 7-play, 77-yard drive gave the impression that both offenses were better than the other teams defenses.
Kurt Hess and the offense took the ball on their own twenty to start their second drive. The offense traveled 80 yards on five plays, with the score coming on a nice 38-yard pass play. Hess faked a reverse and found Andrew Williams on a post pattern. Williams got a few steps on the defense and Hess hit the 6’2″ redshirt freshman in stride.
With 9:26 left in the first half, the Penguins increased their lead to 21-7. Nate Adams, the third tight end on the YSU depth chart, caught his first-ever touchdown pass to cap off another diverse effort by the YSU offense. At this point in the game, Hess had completions to nine different receivers.
“To see those guys [Williams and Adams] get in the end zone is great. “, said Hess. “They both work very hard in practice and it was nice to see those two get into the end zone tonight. I always miss Drew and was very happy to find him in the end zone tonight.”
With :27 seconds left in the half, Kollmorgen found David Johnson for a five yard strike. The touchdown cut the lead to seven points and YSU was content with that lead to kneel out the ball to end the first half.
In the second half, UNI returned the kickoff to the 50. Johnson would score again three plays into the half when he took in a short slant route and danced his way around would-be tacklers like pylons and then hit the afterburners outracing everyone to the end zone.
Johnson continued to torch the Penguins. With 8:59 left in the third quarter he broke a 23-yard run that gave the Panthers their first lead of the day. Johnson’s run capped a 64-yard scoring drive that only took six plays and gave UNI a 28-21 lead.
On a fourth-and-two, the Penguins gambled. Hess faked a handoff on the NIU 45 and then stepped back to find Will Shaw streaking down the right sideline for a 43-yard score. The touchdown not only tied the game but also gave the Penguins defense a much-needed boost of momentum.
“We are not afraid to go for the big play on fourth down”, said Wolford. “Youngstown has had hard times. We play for this university, and I have a great coaching staff. It is a great situation we are in, but we must remain humble. Our mindset is to play 15 or 16 games. Our kids realize that. You can’t be conservative though and I wasn’t going to be conservative at that moment.”
Jeremy Edwards ended a threatening UNI drive when he picked off an out route on a third down play. The Penguins were unable to cash the turnover in for any points and ended up punting.
The Johnson show continued when UNI’s 6’3″ sophomore ran another in, his fourth of the game, from 16 yards away. The touchdown came with 12:42 left in the game and gave UNI a big 35-28 lead.
Torrian Pace pulled the Penguins back into a 35-35 tie when he plunged in from a yard out capping a drive that spanned 5:28. A Hess to Shaw pass on a fourth and four that put the ball on the UNI three was the play that made the drive work.
The Penguins regained possession with 5:51 left in the game. What happened from there was season-defining. The Penguins drove the ball 69 yards in eight plays. The drive was capped by a great pass from Hess to Christian Bryan for a 26-yard score. The touchdown put the Penguins ahead 42-35 with 1:50 left in the game.
For the Penguins, Hess was 20-28 for 290 yards and four touchdowns. Shaw hauled in five of the Hess balls for 95 yards and a touchdown. Cook carried the ball 32 times for 147 yards and a touchdown.
Northern Iowa got a great game from Kollmorgen who rallied his team back almost every time they fell behind. He finished the game 23-38 for 333 yards and three touchdowns.
Johnson gave the YSU defense fits with 6 catches for 76 yards and 17 carries for 87 yards and a total of four touchdowns.
Perhaps the biggest hero of the game was Donald D’Alesio. D’Alesio sat out most of last year with injuries, but has been a solid performer since he returned. He had in a hand in five pass breakups in this game including the final threat.
“There is no doubt that it felt good to contribute”, said D’Alesio. “I owed these guys that much.”