By Marc Weems
The 11th-ranked Youngstown State University football team beat No. 21 University of Northern Iowa 14-10 despite key injuries.
YSU (5-1, 3-0 Missouri Valley Football Conference) lost starting quarterback Ricky Davis and backup Trent Hosick by halftime. But third-string quarterback Nathan Mays led YSU to victory.
Mays entered the game at the end of the second quarter and played the remainder of the game. Mays managed the offense and helped the Penguins push the ball down the field in the fourth quarter.
“Against a lot of odds, and a difficult situation, they just fought for that win,” head coach Bo Pelini said. “Heck, Nathan Mays was on the scout team this week and I gave him a game ball because he deserves it.”
YSU held UNI to one third down conversion in 11 attempts. The Panthers attempted three third down conversions in the fourth quarter, but the Penguins forced a change in possession the rest of the days. YSU defensive end Derrick Rivers said the defense has learned from its close games over the past few seasons.
“We finish man. We have learned how to finish and that was our problem in years past,” River said. “When we are done, we never seem to give up. The defense picked up the offense and the offense picked up the defense.”
In the second quarter, quarterback Ricky Davis fumbled, which was recovered by UNI safety Elijah Campbell on YSU’s 48-yard line. After the recovery, UNI kicker Austin Errthum converted on a 27-yard field goal to put UNI (2-4, 1-2 MVFC) up 3-0 with 7:50 left in the quarter.
After UNI’s field goal drive, Davis was intercepted by linebacker Duncan Ferch which was returned for a 34-yard touchdown. That touchdown made the score 10-0 UNI with 7:06 left in the first half.
Quarterback Trent Hosick replaced when Davis was injured. Hosick made an impact quickly, running for 28 yards on his first drive but threw an interception before leaving the game with a broken collarbone.
Mays and the Penguins scored their first touchdown on a 22-play, 86-yard drive — culminating in a Tevin McCaster 1-yard touchdown run, cutting the UNI lead to 10-7.
After an interception by Mays, the Penguins went 53 yards down the field and running back Martin Ruiz punched the ball in from the one-yard line to take a 14-10 lead.
“It’s not quite the dramatic story. It’s definitely something you dream about, getting the chance to do something,” Mays said. “It was definitely out of nowhere until I got hit the first play. I’m in the meeting rooms every day watching film and I’m right by Ricky and Trent’s side.”
Along with the offense having two long scoring drives, the offensive line played well enough to wear UNI’s defense down. The Penguins ran the ball 61 times for 226 yards rushing.
“Nate and I took snaps throughout the week, so it wasn’t a big deal,” center Vitas Hrynkiwicz said. “He came up to us and assured us that he was ready to go. It’s the senior leadership, everyone just pushes us through saying just 2 more and keep going.”
Down by four with 28 seconds left in the game, the Panthers drove the ball down to the YSU 49-yard line. But YSU’s secondary batted down the game-winning pass into the end zone.
“Defensively we played really well and so did special teams. The offense willed their way,” Pelini said. “I’ll tell you this, I’ve been coaching a long time but I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud of a team. They fought and they have the will to win. We have a lot of unfinished business but they earned it tonight.”
UNI 10, YSU 14
3-0 UNI — Austin Errthum 27-yard field goal. 7:50
10-0 UNI — Duncan Ferch 34-yard interception return for touchdown (Errthum extra point good). 7:06
10-7 YSU — Tevin McCaster 1-yard touchdown run (Kennedy extra point good). 11:47
14-10 YSU — Martin Ruiz 1-yard touchdown run (Kennedy extra point good). 0:28
Passing_UNI, Aaron Bailey 3-10-0-44-0. YSU, Nathan Mays 3-6-0-25-1.
Rushing_UNI, Tyvis Smith 11-71-0. YSU, Martin Ruiz 23-101-1.
Receiving_UNI, Logan Cunningham 1-31-0. YSU, Darien Townsend 2-14-0.
Sacks_UNI, Hezekiah Applegate 1, Karter Schult 1. YSU, Savon Smith 2.
Tackles_UNI, Elijah Campbell 9-7-2. YSU, Jameel Smith 8-8-0.