Football’s historic year in review

C.J. Charleston reels in a tough catch over a Missouri State defender in the teams' matchup Oct. 28, 2023. Photo by Dylan Lux / The Jambar

By Madeline Hippeard

The Youngstown State University football team finished its 2023 season with an 8-5 record, including its first appearance in the NCAA FCS playoffs since 2016.

In the first round of the playoffs, senior wide receiver Bryce Oliver broke the school record for total career receiving touchdowns when he caught his 26th against Duquesne University on Nov. 25, 2023.

The previous school record, last broken in 1979, was 25 receiving touchdowns in a season.

Oliver said the work he has done with senior quarterback Mitch Davidson over his time at Youngstown State University helped him break the school record for total career touchdowns.  

“It’s a testament to the work Mitchell and I put in throughout the offseason or just since I’ve been here. I think you guys see the stuff we do on the field but it’s a lot that goes into that off the field,” Oliver said. “It’s a blessing for sure to have that record.” 

Throughout his career at YSU, Oliver had 147 receptions for 2,065 yards. In the 2023 season, he caught eight touchdowns.

Senior quarterback Mitch Davidson completed 256 of 368 passes thrown for 3,088 yards, earning a 69.6% completion percentage.

Davidson became the first quarterback since 2013 to start every game in the season. He set the school records for completions, yards thrown, pass attempts and completion percentage in one season. Davidson also set a record for number of games with 300 passing yards with four. 

Throughout his career at Youngstown State, Davidson threw for 4,978 yards and 40 touchdowns over 30 games. He also rushed for nine career touchdowns, five of which came in the 2023 season. 

The Penguins scored 27 rushing touchdowns during their 2023 season. 

Ten of the ‘Guins rushing touchdowns were scored by senior tailback Dra Rushton who ran for 664 yards on 163 carries. Senior tailback Tyshon King rushed for 1,011 yards on 187 carries for the Penguins, scoring nine touchdowns throughout the course of the season.  

Junior cornerback Troy Jakubec intercepted a team-best four passes, the most in one season since 2016.

Troy Jakubec eyes up the ball against The Ohio State University. Photo by Dylan Lux / The Jambar

Head coach Doug Phillips said he believes the Penguins’ performance on the field this year helped them become a great team. 

“It comes down to offense scoring points, defense being relentless and stopping the run, and special teams being superior. We’ll go back on film and there’s probably a lot of things we need to clean up and get better at, but I couldn’t be prouder of our players, our coaches, our fans, our community,” Phillips said. 

Youngstown State finished the season with wins against Valparaiso University, Robert Morris University, Southern Illinois University, Illinois State University, Missouri State University, Indiana State University and Duquesne.

Greg Benton Jr. celebrates after a tackle against Missouri State at home. Photo by Dylan Lux / The Jambar

The Penguins also defeated Murray State University for the first time in program history.

Offensively, the ‘Guins led the FCS in possession time averaging 35:06 per game. 

YSU averaged a school record of 243.1 passing yards per game. The former record, set in 1972, was 235.8 yards per game. 

On average, the Penguins scored 32 points per game last year, the most in a season since 2013.

The offense set two other school records in terms of scoring. First, the ‘Guins set a record for number of over-40-point games with six games this season. They also set a new school record for scoring 30 or more points in six consecutive games. 

Defensively, the Penguins allowed the fewest rushing yards per game since 2012 at 102.2 yards allowed. 

YSU football will kick off the 2024 season Sept. 7 against Valparaiso.