Finishing Strong: YSU caps off the regular season with a win

Hunter Wells (6) turns to throw to running back (20). Wells played his final game in Stambaugh today.

By Rick Henneman

The Youngstown State University football team (6-5, 4-4 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference) entered Saturday’s Senior Day match-up against Missouri State University (3-8, 2-6 MVFC) looking to finish out the regular season with a win. 20 YSU seniors were honored in a rainy Stambaugh Stadium before kickoff. The Penguins had won the previous two meetings with MSU by a combined score of 112-27 and continued the success against the Bears with a 38-10 win.

The wet and windy weather made its impact on the first drive of the game when MSU quarterback Peyton Huslig fumbled the second snap of the game. The Bears recovered but the offensive drive was stalled.

The Penguins offense opened up with a 10-play, 51-yard drive but were forced to attempt a field goal after quarterback Hunter Wells couldn’t connect with wide receiver Alvin Bailey on third down. Zak Kennedy split the uprights on a 30-yard attempt to put YSU up 3-0 with 8:11 left in the first quarter.

The Penguin defense held MSU to a 3-and-out on the next drive and caught a break during the punt attempt. The snap went over punter Brendan Withrow’s head. YSU recovered the ball. The special teams’ touchdown put YSU up 10-0 halfway through the first.

Hunter Wells (6) turns to throw to running back (20). Wells played his final game in Stambaugh today. Photo by Marc Weems/ The Jambar

The Bears showed promise on offense for the first time after the YSU touchdown and put together an 8-play, 62-yard drive that set kicker Zach Drake up for a 31-yard field goal attempt. Drake’s kick clipped the right upright and was no good. The Bears trailed YSU 10-0 at the end of the first.

Penguin running back Tevin McCaster opened up the second quarter with a 30-yard run. He fumbled but YSU caught a break and continued the drive. McCaster made up for that mistake as he bulldozed his way through defenders on a 6-yard touchdown run to finish the drive. The Penguins led MSU 17-0 with 11:52 left in the second quarter.

The YSU running game continued to show not only explosiveness but also depth after third-string running back Joe Alessi turned the corner and turned on the jets for a 34-yard touchdown run with 8:18 left in the first half.

The Penguins led 24-0 at halftime. YSU dominated the first half with 168 yards on the ground.

The Bears defense opened up the second half with a new intensity and held the Penguins to a 3-and-out. However, the Bears’ special team nightmare continued as Matt Rush fumbled a fair catch that was recovered by Cash Mitchell for the Penguins.

MSU got on the board for the first time in the game with a 29-yard field goal from Drake. The Bears relied almost entirely on Huslig, who ran the ball nine times, during the scoring drive. The Bears trailed YSU 24-3 at the end of the third quarter.

The Penguin offense made sure that there would be no comeback by MSU on Senior Day. The offensive line continued its superb play and opened up a hole for McCaster who found the end zone on a 28-yard run. YSU increased its lead to 31-3 with 10:01 left in the game.

“We run the ball more if we play in the rain,” McCaster said about the weather. “It was slippery, the ball was wet but it was fun. This is honestly the best I’ve felt after a game.”

MSU never gave up on the game and drove down the field on a 13-play, 66-yard drive capped off with a 4-yard touchdown run by running back Myron Mason.

Senior Day would not have been complete without a score from a senior. Quarterback Ricky Davis solved that problem and scored the last points of the game as he broke away on a 10-yard touchdown run.

“I thought we played well,” YSU Head Coach Bo Pelini said after the game. “Our kids played hard and did what they had to do. It was a big day for the seniors. Obviously an emotional day, these kids have done a lot for our program and the community.”

McCaster finished the game with 27 carries and 181 yards, just 2 yards shy of his career-high. McCaster said after the game that he would have broken his high if he knew how close he was.

Senior free safety Jalyn Powell finished the game with a team-high nine tackles.

“That win meant everything to me,” Powell said about his last game at home. “I definitely got sad, I have been playing football my whole life. I tried to leave everything out there today. I couldn’t ask for a better way to go out here in the Ice Castle.”