Kennedy kicks YSU to 17-14 win over Salukis

Tevin McCaster (#37) pumps up the Youngstown State crowd late in the fourth quarter. YSU defeated Southern Illinois, 17-14. Photo by Brent Bigelow/The Jambar

By Brian Yauger

Off the foot of kicker Zak Kennedy’s game winner, the Youngstown State University football team put up their second win of the season, beating the Southern Illinois University Salukis, 17-14, in Missouri Valley Football Conference action.

“That group in there is going to put me in my grave,” Penguins head coach Bo Pelini said. “We found a way to win in the end. We didn’t play particularly well, especially on offense. A little bit more of the same, but we found a way to win. Still too many mistakes, and [we] left points on the board.”

Defense was a different story for Pelini.

“Defensively, we played pretty well. We had to make some adjustments obviously, there was a lot more quarterback runs and we didn’t really prepare for that. I thought our kids handled that really well, considering that puts a lot of pressure on our safeties.”

Tevin McCaster (#37) looks to get up field against Southern Illinois. The Penguins won 17-14. Photo by Marc Weems/ The Jambar

Running back Tevin McCaster rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown. This touchdown marked his 30th career touchdown with the program. McCaster is now the 10th player to achieve that feat.

Quarterback Montgomery VanGorder called his own number 12 times throughout the game. VanGorder rushed for 48 yards, including a 19-yard scamper which was his longest of the night. VanGorder had struggles through the air. He finished 15-for-36 with two interceptions, but led the team down the field for the game-winning field goal.

“I had so many guys come up to me and say ‘hey we’re going to need you down the stretch’,” VanGorder said. “As an offense, we played really well down the stretch. We know what we’re capable of as an offense, and eventually it’s going to break for us.”

Zach Farrar had the longest reception of the game with a 19-yarder and had the most total receiving yards with 36. Natavious Payne, led the team in receptions with four and got 33 receiving yards of his own. Payne also had a near touchdown that was called off.

“He’s a great kid,” VanGorder said. “Comes in to work every day, and I’ve played with some fast guys and he’s right up there with them. Good luck covering that kid. I thought he held onto that one that got reviewed. For a true freshman to come in and play like that it says a lot about him.”

The Penguins defense caused problems for SIU quarterback Matt DeSomer, sacking him five times for 15 yards. Despite this, DeSomer still was the leading rusher for the Salukis, tallying 100 yards.

“I spoke to defensive end Shereif Bynum before the game and told him, ‘it’s going to be a dogfight’,” senior defensive tackle Savon Smith said. “But that’s what this team needs to now forward our progress and win out the rest of this year.”

Zak Kennedy was 3-for-4 on the night. The lone miss came off of a shaky snap, something that was adjusted. Kennedy was 2-for-6 on field goal attempts before this game. He stepped up when it mattered most.

“The kick from 42 was a bit of a rough operation, but we got it figured out on the sideline right away,” Kennedy said. “[On the last kick], perfect snap by Steven Wethli, perfect hold by Mark Schuler, and we got it done.”

YSU moves on to face the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits. YSU defeated SDSU, 19-7, at home last year. This game will be Brookings, S.D.