Disappointing football season ends on high note

By Yousof Hamza

The Youngstown State University Penguins concluded their 2021 football season with a 35-18 win against the Southern Illinois University Salukis on Saturday, Nov. 20. This was the first road win for the Penguins since they defeated the Salukis back in November 2017.

The Penguins dominated the entire game and never trailed the Salukis. Youngstown State opened up the scoreboard with a 6-yard touchdown run by senior tailback Jaleel McLaughlin with 6:24 left in the first quarter.

In his final game, McLaughlin led the Penguins offense with 185 rushing yards on 25 attempts with three touchdowns. His performance earned him the Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Week award, his second such award of the season.

McLaughlin also earned First-Team All-Conference honors.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw ran for 30 yards and passed for an additional 91 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Crenshaw’s performance throughout the season earned him the MVFC Freshman of the Year award. He is also a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award for the best freshman at the FCS level.

The Penguins dominant run game would not have happened without senior offensive lineman Jordan Velez’s MVFC Offensive Lineman of the Week performance.

This game was one the Penguins’ best performances. Unlike the game against Western Illinois University, the Penguins maintained composure through all four quarters.

In that competition, the Penguins held a 35-14 lead going into halftime. They had a 35-7 lead at one point but ended up losing 35-38.

Head coach Doug Phillips felt the players did not manage their high emotions during the game.

“[The] hardest thing is, once you lose that momentum, how do you get it back?” Phillips said.

However, several weeks later after losing multiple straight games, senior tight end Josh Burgett felt the team was managing its highs and lows despite the losses.

Team management and chemistry seem to have been the theme throughout the season. Players and coaches believe those elements are a crucial part of the process of building a football team.

While the Penguins finished the season 3-7, all of their wins came against playoff teams: University of the Incarnate Word, Missouri State University and Southern Illinois.

Despite the disappointing season, the Penguins had some bright spots. The team is tied for first in offensive red zone production with 100% red zone efficiency. The team also has the 16th most rushing yards despite playing one or two games fewer than most schools.

McLaughlin led the Penguins’ rushing offense throughout the season with 1139 yards, which placed him 6th in the nation.

Despite the productive rushing offense, Youngstown State placed sub-100 in all passing stats.

The Penguins will kickoff next season at home against the Duquesne University Dukes on Sept. 3, 2022.