By Brian Yauger
The final whistle blew on the 2018 season for Youngstown State University football with the Penguins falling, 35-28, to Illinois State University.
“We were soft, and didn’t play worth a damn,” Penguins head coach Bo Pelini said. “It is what it is. Missed assignments, missteps, I mean defensively it was atrocious. I’ve never been this disgusted about a defensive performance in my life. The missed tackles, I mean when you play uninspired football that’s what’s going to happen. It is what it is.”
Opening the scoring for YSU (4-7, 3-5 Missouri Valley Football Conference) was kicker Zak Kennedy, hitting a 41-yard field goal eight minutes into the game. Kennedy went on to hit another field goal from 41 yards out in the second quarter. Kennedy’s time at YSU ends with 302 points scored between field goals and extra points throughout his career, and scored 48 this season.
The Penguins were down 14-6 midway through the second quarter when Tevin McCaster rushed in and cut their deficit to 14-13 at the halftime break. McCaster ended his final season at YSU with 1235 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. McCaster finished just shy of 3000 career yards with 2957 throughout his four seasons.
Stepping in at the quarterback position was Nathan Mays. Mays threw six completions on 16 attempts for 99 yards and two touchdowns.
Mays’ first touchdown came off of a 10-yard pass to Ryan Emans, the first touchdown reception of his YSU career. The second touchdown came minutes later to Miles Joiner, a 58-yard pass.
“You’ve got to give them credit, they played really well,” Mays said. “Coach Bo told us before the game that the more physical team was going to win. Each team threw their haymakers, they just threw a couple more than we could. It’s just upsetting to not come out on top. Love the seniors, love the way we fought. The team stuck it but we just couldn’t pull through today.”
Senior Savon Smith ended the season with 33 tackles and five sacks, with 108 and 10 during his four seasons with the team. Smith tied his career high with his five sacks, and set a career high with 41 combined yards on those sacks.
The Penguins took the lead in the fourth quarter off of Mays’ pass to Joiner, but that wouldn’t last. Illinois State returned the favor, scoring on a 5-yard rush by Kevin Brown to tie the game at 28. Five minutes later, Brown scored the decisive touchdown for the Redbirds setting the score at 35-28, which became the final.
YSU’s 4-7 record with a 3-5 conference record is good enough for sixth in the MVFC, but not nearly enough for the Penguins to qualify for the playoffs.
“They played inconsistent like they have all year,” Pelini said. “That’s why we lost football games. We lost football games because we didn’t play well enough. We didn’t deserve to win.”
This is the lowest win total that the Penguins have recorded since the 2010 season when they went just 3-8 after a 3-1 start.
Another question after a 4-7 season is the contract of Bo Pelini and if he’ll be back for the next season. He already mentioned that he didn’t want to speak of it yet and hasn’t.