By Cameron Niemi
The Youngstown State University football team had its 2023 homecoming game inside Stambaugh Stadium on Oct. 21. Illinois State University came to town, the Penguins won by a final score of 41-38.
Illinois State came in with a 4-2 record and ranked No. 25 nationally. Youngstown State was coming off a last-second field goal loss against the University of South Dakota.
The all-time series against the Redbirds coming into the game was 15-15. The game was a closely-fought contest from start to finish. The first half saw 56 total points alone as both offenses went back and forth.
The Penguins got on the board first as senior running back Tyshon King ran in a 1-yard touchdown, which gave YSU a 7-0 lead. King finished the game with 148 yards on 12 carries, as he averaged 6.2 yards per carry.
The Redbirds responded with a drive of their own, which tied the game at seven. The Penguins then marched 75 yards downfield in three plays. Senior quarterback Mitch Davidson rolled out to his left and found junior wide receiver C.J. Charleston on a deep 72-yard pass downfield for a touchdown.
YSU took a 14-7 lead before the end of the first quarter. At the start of the second, Illinois State drove down the field and tied the game.
Davidson and the offense went down the field for a 6-play, 75-yard drive. Davidson connected with senior wide receiver Bryce Oliver for a 15-yard touchdown.
Illinois State continued to answer back with drives of its own. The game was tied 21-21 halfway through the second quarter.
The ‘Guins offense immediately responded with a quick three-play drive as Davidson connected with redshirt freshman wide receiver Joey Farthing for a 33-yard touchdown. This was the second week in a row that Davidson found Farthing in the endzone.
By halftime, the game was tied 28-28 as the Redbirds scored with less than 30 seconds left in the first half.
The second half saw less offense and more defense. YSU took the lead again as redshirt freshman kicker Andrew Lastovka kicked a 22-yard field goal. Illinois State scored a touchdown and had a 35-31 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Penguins had the ball at the start of the fourth. The team went on a seven-minute drive down the field, which ended with Davidson’s pass to senior Dra Rushton for the 6-yard score, which gave Youngstown State the lead once again, 38-35.
Davidson finished the game 16-of-25 through the air for 203 yards, as he passed to nine different players. Davidson threw four touchdowns, which is a single game career-high record for the quarterback.
Davidson spoke after on the back-and-forth game and the team bouncing back after last week’s loss.
“Coming into this game we know it’s a must win. It’s Youngstown, it’s gritty football, and I believe we came out as a team and we played well,” Davidson said. “Overall, I thought we played well and I’m super proud of my team.”
With less than five minutes remaining in the game, Illinois State was held to a field goal by the Penguins’ defense to tie the game, 38-38.
YSU marched down the field and got the ball within field goal range with just five seconds left on the clock. Lastovka lined up on the left hash as he stepped up and drilled the game-winner from 37 yards out. Lastovka was hounded by his teammates from the sideline after the kick.
Lastovka played a crucial role on special teams. He received Missouri Valley Football Conference special teams player of the week as he was a perfect 5-of-5 on PATs and 2-of-2 on field goals.
Lastovka spoke after the game on his game winner and staying calm under pressure.
“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Latovka said. “Calling the timeout, we knew it was gonna happen. Just keeping your head in the right place and knowing you can make it, no matter the circumstance.”
Youngstown State improves to 4-3 on the season and 2-2 in the MVFC. YSU also jumped up to No. 24 in the Stats Perform FCS Top 25.
YSU will play its second-straight home game as it will host the 3-4 Missouri State University at 2 p.m. on Oct. 28. For more information on the game, go to ysusports.com. To watch, visit ESPN+ or listen to the game on 570 WKBN.