Wildcats eliminate the Penguins

The Penguins finished the 2023 season 8-5 overall, with several players entering the NCAA transfer portal. Photo by Dylan Lux / The Jambar

By Cameron Niemi

The Youngstown State University football team traveled to Philadelphia for the second round of the FCS Playoffs and faced off against Villanova University on Dec. 2. The Penguins came up short and were defeated by the Wildcats with a final score of 45-28.

No. 8 seed Villanova came into the matchup with a 9-2 record and the Coastal Athletic Association Co-Championships. They were the last of the eighth seeded teams for the FCS Playoffs and received a first-round bye and home field advantage for the second round. 

Villanova jumped out to an early 7-3 lead in the first quarter. Early in the second quarter, senior quarterback Mitch Davidson connected with redshirt freshman Joey Farthing for a 34-yard touchdown. 

The touchdown gave the Penguins a 10-7 lead, their only lead of the game. The Wildcats went on to score two unanswered touchdowns before halftime and led 21-10.   

By the end of the third, the Penguins were outscored, 10-3, and Villanova extended its lead to 31-13 heading into the fourth quarter. 

YSU scored two touchdowns in the final quarter, but the Wildcats also added two of their own to end the game and move on to the FCS quarterfinals. 

Davidson finished the game 27-of-44 passing for 287 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Farthing finished with two touchdown receptions, and sophomore Luke Hensley had one. 

Davidson finished his final year of his collegiate career with 3,088 passing yards, 24 passing touchdowns, 4 rushing and six interceptions. The Salem product completed 69.6% of his passes and set a YSU playoff passing record.  

From left to right stands: Jaylen Castleberry, Greg Benton Jr. and Alex Howard. Photo by Dylan Lux

Senior wideout Bryce Oliver ended his last season in Youngstown with 64 receptions for 978 yards, and he led the team with eight touchdown catches. Oliver also set the record of the most receiving touchdowns by a Penguin with 26. 

Oliver announced Dec. 6 he has declared for the 2024 NFL Draft on his Instagram page.

Fifth-year senior Bryce Oliver is pictured above. Photo by Dylan lux / The Jambar

Senior tailback duo Tyshon King and Dra Rushton had a strong year running the rock as they each scored nine touchdowns. King finished the year with 1,011 yards rushing and averaged 5.4 yards per carry. Rushton averaged 4.1 yards per carry and had a total of 664 yards.

Despite the second round loss, the Penguins made a return to the FCS Playoffs for the first time since 2016. YSU finished the 2023 season with an 8-5 overall record and 5-3 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference as they finished 4th. 

The NCAA Transfer Portal opened up Dec. 4 and as it stands, 10 YSU players have entered the portal. Some key names departing from the program on the defense are juniors, Alex Howard,  D’Marco Augustin, Ezekiel Blake, Anthony Johnson, and seniors Dylan Wudke and Andres Lehrmann. 

The MVFC announced the All-Academic-MVFC honors Dec. 5. Junior offensive lineman David Metzler was named to the first-team. Wudke, senior tight end Jake Benio and junior center Aidan Parker were named honorable-mentions.

YSU will return to the field in spring 2024. To keep up with the team in the offseason and moves in the portal, go to ysusports.com or visit @youngstownstfb on Instagram.