By Jeff Brown
The Youngstown State University football team defeated South Dakota State University on Saturday 30-27 in a game that was a tale of two halves. The win was YSU’s first win in Brookings South Dakota since 1974, and the first time YSU has beaten SDSU since 2007.
“It feels great,” safety Donald D’Alesio said. “Me and Nate Adams were walking off the field and I said better late than never.”
The first half was a shootout with both sides moving the ball at will, and scoring on their first three possessions of the game. YSU and SDSU combined for 568 yards in the first half. YSU led at the half 23-20.
The second half however, was a completely different story. Both teams went scoreless in the third until YSU quarterback Hunter Wells threaded the needle on a 20 yard touchdown pass to Jelani Berassa to give YSU a 30-20 lead with 9:01 left in the fourth quarter.
“I think we just had to get our feet under us a little bit,” D’Alesio said. “We just played hard and just give credit to my whole defense.”
SDSU would answer on their next possession with a 15 play 75 yard drive that was capped off by a six yard touchdown pass from quarterback Zach Lujan to running back Zach Zenner with 4:16 left in the game, bringing the game to 30-27. Zenner is the Missouri Valley Conference all- time leading rusher, and finished with 117 rushing yards and one touchdown and also had four catches for 37 yards and a touchdown.
Perhaps the play of the game came for YSU on the next possession when kicker/punter Joey Cejudo pinned the Jackrabbits on their own 2 yard line with just over two minutes to play.
“Joey Cejudo had an unbelievable punt there at the end of the game,” head coach Eric Wolford said. “That could have been the play of the game. When you just think about it, I mean big conversion on fourth down for us.”
The YSU defense took over, forcing SDSU to turn the ball over on downs and ensuring victory for the Penguins. The defensive line was a force for the Penguins in the second half, coming up with a total of six sacks on the day; defensive end Derek Rivers led the team with three sacks.
“Our d-line man just works together, like I love them boys,” Rivers said. “When one of us gets him [the quarterback] out of the pocket somebody else cleans it up. We just knew we had to come out here and ball and that’s what we did.”
Wide Receiver Andrew Williams had a career day for the Penguins catching six passes for a career high 139 yards, and came up with multiple key catches on the drive that gave them the go ahead score.
The win is YSU’s third against a ranked FCS opponent this season, and puts the penguins in prime position to contend for a playoff spot this year, something they haven’t done since the 2006 season.
“We’re just taking it one game at a time,” D’Alesio said. “We’re just going to go in Monday get the corrections handled and start focusing on South Dakota.”