By Jeff Brown
Youngstown State University quarterback Hunter Wells came up inches short on a two-point conversion with 32 seconds remaining as the Penguins fell to Illinois State University 31-29 on Saturday night.
YSU [3-2, 1-1] attempted an onside kick following the failed two-point conversion, but a member of the Illinois State hands team batted the ball out of bounds. Illinois State [4-1, 2-0] was not flagged on the play. YSU coach Bo Pelini was upset with the call and was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
One of more infamous cases of an onside kick being batted out of bounds was a 2008 game between the University of Notre Dame and Navy. Notre Dame batted the onside kick out of bounds and Navy was awarded a re-kick.
“It doesn’t matter after the onside kick, well you’ll have to talk the conference office about that,” Pelini said. “We didn’t play well in any phase of the game to win this football game.”
Late in the first quarter YSU had an extra-point blocked after a three-yard Shane Kuhn touchdown run, which may have meant the difference in the game.
Illinois State quarterback Tre Roberson was listed as questionable with a thumb injury coming into Saturday’s contest, but did not enter the game into Illinois State’s third series on offense. A few plays later Roberson scampered for a 58-yard touchdown run to give Illinois State a 14-6 lead early in the second quarter. Roberson finished 6-11 for 130 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for 90 yards on five carries.
“Well honestly we were expecting him to come in in the first quarter,” safety LeRoy Alexander said. “I felt like were really good at first. We just hurt ourselves and missed assignments.”
Missouri Valley Football Conference leading rusher Marshaun Coprich also found success against the Penguin run defense, rushing for 132 yards on 23 carries and also scored the game-winning touchdown with 4:17 remaining.
A fake punt on a fourth and five from the Illinois State 39 yard line earlier in the drive set up the touchdown.
Pelini blamed the Penguins’ poor tackling as a reason to Illinois State’s rushing success. The Red Birds finished with 222 total rushing yards.
“It’s really hard to cover them when you miss tackles and people don’t do their job,” Pelini said. “He’s a good football player [Coprich]. When you get your opportunities, when your one on one, you got to make the tackle.”
YSU running backs Martin Ruiz and Jody Webb led the way for the Penguins offense in both rushing and receiving. The two backs compiled 196 rushing yards while also tallying eight catches for 116 yards.
Wells completed 18-27 for 240 yards and one touchdown but threw a crucial pick six on the Penguins’ first possession of the game.
“We came out flat in the first half. It is what it is,” Wells said. “I can’t start the first drive off with a pick six. That’s on me and I take full responsibility. It’s no one but my fault.”
Pelini was not at all happy with his team’s performance on Saturday.
“We lost. I don’t know maybe I’ve been gone to long, but if you lose, that’s a step back,” Pelini said. “Our standards are a lot higher than that.”