By Marc Weems
The Youngstown State University football team traveled to Normal, Illinois, to take on the Illinois State University Redbirds. YSU won 20-6, the first time in Normal since the John Heacock era.
The first quarter’s theme was defense and special teams as both teams were unable to score by the end the quarter. Both Illinois State (2-4, 0-3 in Missouri Valley Football Conference) and YSU (4-1, 2-0 in Missouri Valley Football Conference) held each other to less than 60 yards each. Both teams were able to make small drives but eventually stalled.
Both offenses began to move the ball to start the second quarter, but neither team found the end zone.
With about four minutes left, YSU put together a nine-play, 44-yard drive that ended in a Zak Kennedy 42-yard field goal, a season-high for Kennedy. That was Kennedy’s sixth make in seven field goal attempts. That field goal gave YSU a 3-0 lead at halftime.
Illinois State received the ball to start the second half, and the Redbirds took full advantage of getting the ball first. ISU’s running game got them close to the goal line after a James Robinson 43-yard burst that brought them within 5 yards of the end zone.
Although Illinois State had the momentum on the drive, YSU’s defense held them to a field goal. Sean Slattery put a 20-yard field goal to tie the game 3-3 with 12:02 to go in the third quarter.
After another unsuccessful drive from YSU, Illinois State was yet again able to put together another strong drive that only resulted in a field goal. Slattery connected on a 27-yard field goal to put Illinois State up 6-3 with 5:20 to go in third quarter. Illinois State took the lead heading into the fourth quarter.
YSU quarterback Ricky Davis connected with wide receiver Alvin Bailey for a 20-yard touchdown to end a 17-play, 91-yard drive. After a Kennedy extra point, YSU led 10-6 with 12:44 to go in the game.
After a few stalled possessions from both sides, YSU got the ball on its own 13-yard line. The Penguins put together another nine-play, 87-yard drive. Running back Tevin McCaster carried YSU on the drive after a 56-yard run to set up the Penguins just shy of the Redbird goal line. McCaster punched the ball in to put the Penguins up 17-3 with 2:23 remaining.
When Illinois State got the ball with under 3 minutes, their drive stalled on fourth down after Derrick Rivers recorded his third sack of the game.
With 1:35 left, Kennedy connected on a 35-yard field goal to push the score to 20-6 in favor of YSU. The Penguins’ defense kept the Illinois State offense from driving down the field.
With the win, the Penguins have started conference play 2-0, the first time since 2013. The biggest reason was the YSU pass rush. The Penguins recorded six sacks—three by Rivers, two by defensive end Avery Moss and one by defensive back Kenny Bishop.
YSU’s next game will be on Oct. 15 as the Penguins take on the University of Northern Iowa at 7 p.m. at Stambaugh Stadium.