Penguins get much-needed win over South Dakota

Tevin McCaster is hoisted up by teammates after scoring in the first quarter. Photo by Brent Bieglow/ The Jambar

By Brian Yauger

Messy conditions made way for the best performance of the season for the Youngstown State University Penguins as they defeated the University of South Dakota, 29-17, in Missouri Valley Football Conference play.

“That’s what we can look like when we’re firing on all cylinders,” Penguins Head Coach Bo Pelini said. “When we’re not beating ourselves. When we started the third quarter, we reverted back a little bit, but we refocused, and made some plays. It was a good win, that’s a good football team.”

When asked if that was their best game of the season, Pelini kind of said so.

“Absolutely. That isn’t saying a whole hell of a lot. We weren’t perfect by any means, I just told our team, ‘we can get better’, but that was a good performance, that was good to see,” he said. “I thought we were more efficient for the most part, and defensively we played well.”

Quarterback Montgomery VanGorder went 10-for-18 for 131 yards and a touchdown through the air. He did some damage on the ground as well, rushing for a touchdown. Midway through the fourth quarter, VanGorder got dinged up and was replaced by Nathan Mays.

Mays was ready to step in and it showed. Mays ran for 76 yards on his six carries, including a career-long 50-yard scamper that, Mays says, would have been a touchdown if he was still in shape like he used to be.

“It was only 50? It felt like a lot more,” Mays said. “I am out of shape. I don’t run a lot anymore so I came in and I was gassed. That [ pre-injury] Nate Mays might’ve not been caught.”

Savon Smith had a great performance, sacking Coyotes (3-4, 2-2) quarterback Austin Simmons twice for nine yards, and had six total tackles. Three of which were tackles for a loss for a combined 13 yards.

Savon Smith (#52) celebrates sacking South Dakota quarterback Austin Simmons. Youngstown State’s defense was a huge key in the 29-17 win. Photo by Marc Weems/The Jambar

As a unit, the defensive line stepped up, putting pressure on Simmons, making him force throws, one of which led to a pick-six by the Penguins (3-4, 2-2) DJ Smalls.

“Coach told me to read quick game,” Smalls said. “I saw it a few times earlier in the game and I couldn’t get to it, I just played it a bit more patient. They started driving so I slowed it down a little bit, just read the quarterback, jumped it and made the play.”

Punter Mark Schuler drew praise from his teammates after his performance, averaging 46.8 yards per punt, and an impressive 68-yarder that set the defense up nicely.

“His punting was great,” Smith said. “Great field position, our defense did a really good job keeping them down there. I think we let them up two or three times, like I said, things like that can’t happen once they’re backed into their own endzone. Great job by Schuler, great job by our freshman kicker, he made some crucial field and great job by Zak Kennedy with the kickoffs.”

YSU stays home next week for a game against the red-hot Indiana State University Sycamores, a 2:00 p.m. start.

“I thought we took a step forward, we just have to keep it going,” Pelini said.