By Joshua Fitch
After defeating the University of South Dakota Coyotes, 29-17, the Youngstown State University Penguins football program aims to have another strong performance this week at home against the Indiana State University Sycamores.
In the win against the Coyotes, the Penguins improved to 3-4 for the season. Running back Tevin McCaster led the way for YSU with his 176 rushing yards on a career-high 36 attempts. McCaster rushed for a touchdown in the victory and caught a 12-yard pass from quarterback Montgomery VanGorder that went to the end zone.
YSU jumped out to a 22-0 lead at halftime, the most points the Penguins have scored in a half all season. Along with the two touchdowns from Tevin McCaster, VanGorder also had a 2-yard touchdown run.
Freshman kicker Grant Gonya missed both extra point tries on the first two touchdowns of the game from McCaster, but connected on the third after VanGorder ran for his only rushing touchdown of the game. Gonya also hit a 27-yard field goal in the first half.
Overall, the Penguins had their best half of the season against South Dakota. On 43 plays, the Penguins had 256 yards of total offense, compared to just 43 yards of total offense on 25 plays for the Coyotes.
In the fourth quarter, YSU led 22-10 when Penguins junior defensive back DJ Smalls picked off a pass from Coyotes quarterback Austin Simmons and returned it 65 yards for a score.
“I just played it a little more patiently,” Smalls said, “I read the steps, read the quarterback and just jumped it.”
Smalls’ interception sealed the win for the Penguins, but it was the lack of mental errors throughout the game that helped the Penguins beat South Dakota, something the team has struggled with all season.
“I just think we executed,” YSU Head Coach Bo Pelini said. “It really wasn’t that much different than what we’ve been doing. Our kids’ focus was better for whatever reason, and we didn’t make as many self-inflicted errors on both sides of the ball. I thought it was our best performance, but not where we need to be.”
This week, the Penguins play host to Indiana State, a team that’s 3-4 as well, but coming off a 24-21 road win against Southern Illinois University.
Yet again, the task for the defense is daunting but doable. The Sycamores love to run the ball. As evidence, ISU’s leading rusher, Ja’Quan Keys, has more yards than their leading passer, Ryan Boyle.
Keys has run 158 times for 946 yards with 13 touchdowns. Those marks are good for second and first in the FCS, respectively. Boyle has completed 70-of-111 passes for 874 and just two touchdowns.
“Indiana State is probably the most improved team in the conference,” Pelini said, “They’re playing good football. We need to execute at a high level. They’re a balanced team offensively and much-improved team defensively. They’re committed to the run game and they execute very well.”
Defensively, the Penguins will have to prepare for a run heavy team, but coming off of a game where the defense held its opponent to 243 yards of total offense certainly helps the mindset.
“It certainly gives us a lot of confidence going forward,” safety Avery Larkin said. “We can do that week in and week out. We have to show that and it starts with practice.”
Larkin has 15 tackles for losses on the season and had two solo tackles in the win against South Dakota.
“Last week we had a great week of practice,” Larkin said. “We brought the energy, we were playing with technique, form tackling and it showed during the game.”
Another good week of practice is key for another YSU win in week eight, along with the efficiency and an attitude to win.
“We performed at a higher level,” Pelini said. “And obviously you better have a sense of urgency, I think we had that. To play good football you have to be efficient. You have to handle yourself, can’t make mental errors and do your job. For the most part we did that.”
YSU will look to do it again on Oct. 27, when the Penguins take on the Sycamores at the Ice Castle with kickoff at 2 p.m.