By Brent Bigelow
After a lackluster 2018 season, the Youngstown State University Penguins were ready to put it behind them as they kicked off this season in Montgomery, Alabama.
Saturday’s game was not a typical opening day for the Penguins; it was the opener for the entire NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
The Penguins defeated Samford University 45-22 in a nationally televised game.
Last season’s opener in Stambaugh Stadium against Butler University was unsatisfying to YSU fans as the Butler Bulldogs beat the Penguins 23-21. But this season the Samford Bulldogs had no answer for the dual attack from Nathan Mays.
“I felt a lot of our guys were really ready to play,” Mays said. “Sometimes last year before games the energy and look on the guys’ faces in the locker room wasn’t there, but this year I felt really comfortable and confident going onto the field. A lot of the guys looked like they were having the time of their lives before this game started.”
Mays led the team in both rushing yards and passing yards, running for 101 yards and passing for 124. He also scored two touchdowns.
The game’s real show-stopper was the Penguins’ defense, as it finished with three interceptions and a scoop-and-score fumble leading to a touchdown. In comparison, the Penguins only had three interceptions the entire 2018 season.
“Last year was musical chairs at defensive back. This year, we have some continuity and we’re healthy,” coach Bo Pelini said. “There were points last year we had a linebacker lined up at free safety. We have continuity, and that gives us a chance at being a real good football team.”
Justus Reed was responsible for all of YSU’s sacks during the game, wrapping up the quarterback two times, along with a tag-team sack. YSU also held Samford to 60 yards on the ground.
“I think we just came out ready to play,” Reed said. “We were really fired up. I didn’t play last year since I was injured, but I had to sit and watch that Butler game last year, and it lit a fire in my belly. I was ready to go.”
The time of possession was in favor of the Penguins as they nearly shut down the Samford offense. YSU’s offense was on the field for 42 minutes of the 60-minute game.
All four of the running backs that touched the ball ran for 50 or more yards, and as a team the Penguins totaled 277 yards on the ground.
The offensive line was awarded the newly added “sledgehammer and hard hat,” which symbolizes the team’s mindset.
“It’s been our motto in the offseason, ‘get back to work,'” Pelini said. “Embracing Youngstown’s values, the grit, the hard work, the attitude that comes with our city that we are all proud of, and I thought we embodied that today.”
YSU’s next game is Saturday, Sept. 7 at Stambaugh Stadium where the Penguins will take on the Howard University Bison for the first time. Kickoff is at 2 p.m.