By Jeff Brown
The 12th ranked Youngstown State University football team opened up Missouri Valley Conference play Saturday afternoon with a 14-7 victory over the 23rd ranked Missouri State University. The win moves YSU to 4-1 on the year and 1-0 in the conference.
YSU came out looking for the homerun ball early and got it on the first play of the game when quarterback Dante Nania found wide receiver Andrew Williams on a hitch and go that resulted in a 56 yard gain for the Penguins. Two plays later Nania found Williams again for an 8 yard touchdown, giving the Penguins a 7-0 lead just minutes into the game.
YSU head coach Eric Wolford said the Penguins were able to strike early because MSU wasn’t expecting a big play. The coaching staff successfully caught the Bears off-guard, giving YSU early momentum on the road.
Later in the first half, running back Jody Webb took a misdirection carry 81 yards for a touchdown in the 2nd quarter to give YSU a 14-0 lead. Webb finished with 10 carries for 117 yards and one touchdown. Martin Ruiz also added 79 yards on 24 carries.
YSU’s defense played its best game of the year, making it a rough day for MSU’s top two offensive threats— quarterback Kierra Harris and wide receiver Julian Burton.
“That was our game plan — to contain the quarterback, get him on the ground. I think we executed that very well,” defensive end Derek Rivers said.
Harris finished the game completing 9 of 28 passes for 75 yards, one touchdown and 2 interceptions. Harris came into the game 4th in the nation in passing efficiency and 8th in passing touchdowns.
Burton, who led the Missouri Valley Conference in receiving yards coming into Saturday’s contest, was limited to just 2 catches for 12 yards.
The game appeared to be all but over until MSU blocked a Joey Cejudo punt and returned it for a touchdown, which would be called back because of an illegal block in the back at the 4 yard line. The YSU defenses was able to hold them for 7 plays inside their own 5 yard line, but were unable to stop them on the 8th play, when Harris found Gannon Sinclair for a 4 yard touchdown to make the game 14-7 YSU.
“We had a schematic break down,” Wolford said. “We were fortunate … that we still won a football game today with a blocked punt, which usually does not happen very often.”
After stopping YSU on the ensuing possession, MSU got the ball back with 3:19 left to play and only down one score, but the comeback was short lived. Harris was intercepted by YSU’s Tre Moore to ensure a Penguin victory. The interception was Moore’s second of the game.
“Defensive coaches were telling us it’s going to come down to defense making plays and getting our offense going. So that’s kind of what we set towards in our mindset,” Moore said.
YSU returns home next Saturday to take on Western Illinois at 7 p.m.