By Kyle Wills
Despite trailing by 10 points with just over three minutes left in the game, the Youngstown State University football team flew ahead to defeat Western Illinois University 28-27.
The Penguins late-quarter victory improved their record to 4-3 and overall to 2-2 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Senior Jaleel McLaughlin had his second straight 30-carry, 200-yard performance with 207 yards on 31 carries with a touchdown. Junior Mitch Davidson threw for over 200 yards for a third straight game, completing 16 of his 29 passes for 221 yards and a score.
Head coach Doug Phillips credited the growth of the offensive line for the strong running performances.
“The offensive line, from where they started to where they are now, head and shoulder are working in unison, working as a group, a physical group of guys creating holes for Jaleel,” Phillips said.
Youngstown State got on the board first, scoring on its opening drive with a 25-yard field goal from senior Colt McFadden.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Leathernecks forced their way into the endzone with two minutes into the second to take a 7-3 lead. However, the Penguins reclaimed the lead, 10-7. Before halftime, McLaughlin rushed his way in for a score after a 14-yard carry.
Western Illinois struck first in the third quarter as it tied the game after a 40-yard field goal with 9:32 left. The Leathernecks took their second lead of the game, 13-10, the next drive with a kick from 30 yards.
Youngstown State’s first score of the half came with 8:37 left in the game when junior Dra Rushton took a 14-yard rush for a touchdown. Western Illinois responded quickly, driving 75 yards in 1:24 and capping the drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass.
The Leathernecks extended their lead to 27-17 on their next drive with a pass from six yards out.
The Penguins started their improbable comeback with 3:05 left as they drove 78 yards. Following a penalty against Youngstown State, Davidson completed a 48-yard pass to redshirt-freshman Brandon Alexander and then connected with junior Bryce Oliver for 40 yards for the score.
After a muffed snap on the extra-point attempt, senior Paddy Lynch was able to roll out and complete a pass to junior Trenton Gillison for two points to cut the deficit to 27-25.
After forcing a three-and-out on defense, Youngstown State reclaimed possession with 0:50 left on the clock. It was able to drive 58 yards to set up the game-winning 42-yard field goal for McFadden as time expired.
Despite coming out on top, Davidson said the team left numerous plays on the field.
“It’s a win, we got out alive, but it’s a lot to learn from. There’s a lot of plays you wish you could have back, wish you could execute better. After watching it on Sunday and coming into practice [Tuesday], we got to play better. We got to execute the plays that are called.
McFadden was named MVFC Special Teams Player of the Week after nailing both of his field-goal attempts, including the game winner.
Being winners of two straight, senior Caleb Blurr said momentum won’t be an advantage for the Penguins.
“We have confidence and we know we can win, but at the same [time], you got to know that this is the next game and whatever we’ve done in the past, that doesn’t matter anymore. We got to focus on this next game,” Blurr said.
The football team will look to bring terror to Stambaugh Stadium during Halloween weekend on Oct. 29 to terrorize the University of South Dakota at 2 p.m.