By Jordan Boitnott
Last week, the Youngstown State University Penguins traveled up north to face No. 8 South Dakota State. They lost in a nail-biter 19-17. The game came down to the last possession as South Dakota State kicked a game-winning field goal with 31 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
The game was a low-scoring affair that saw YSU get down 10-0 early. The Penguins gained some life from a 42-yard touchdown run by junior running back Jaleel McLaughlin. The game was pretty slow from there, with the defenses dominating the game until the third quarter.
South Dakota scored a touchdown in the third quarter off a quarterback sneak from the one-yard line by Mark Gronkowski. They missed the extra point leaving the score at 16-7 in favor of South Dakota.
YSU made a strong comeback in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 straight points to take the lead. Senior defensive back Zaire Jones intercepted Gronkowski and returned the interception to the 20-yard line. This led to another McLaughlin touchdown, making it 17-16.
Doug Phillips, YSU head coach, said he liked the fight his team showed last week in his press conference this week.
“Just to battle back into the game and take the lead in the fourth quarter. That second half, I really felt it was the first time I saw our team really come together, really stay together,” he said. “The enthusiasm and the belief that we’re gonna win this football game. From those standpoints, you know, effort I thought was tremendous.”
The Penguins had its chance to seal the game, forcing a South Dakota three and out. They weren’t able to capitalize and punted the ball back. South Dakota then drove the field and kicked a 29-yard field goal to take the 19-17 lead. On the final possession, YSU redshirt freshman quarterback Mark Waid fumbled on the final possession to end the game.
Grant Dixon, senior linebacker, said the key to getting their first win just comes down to just a few important plays a game.
“Coach Shaffer says it, coach Phillips says it: each game comes down to four or five critical plays. This past weekend, if you look at a couple different drives there were critical plays, where we almost make the play,” he said. “The ball bounced the wrong way. Coach Phillips says the football is not round so sometimes it goes right, sometimes it doesn’t, but the objective is to be in the right spot at the right time.”
This week, YSU will play their homecoming game against South Dakota. This is the team’s first game all year against a team not ranked inside the country’s top 10. Kickoff will be 12 p.m. Saturday with special festivities at halftime.