The Youngstown State football team will appear in the 2017 NCAA Division I football championship game against James Madison this Sat., Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas. Kickoff for the contest between the Penguins and the Dukes is set for 12:05 p.m. (eastern time) at Toyota Stadium. The game will be available on ESPN2 and on the radio on WKBN 570 AM.
YSU (12-3) continued its postseason to remember with a final-second 40-38 win at Eastern Washington on a frigid, 5-degree afternoon at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. on Dec. 17. The Penguins scored 20 fourth-quarter points in the come-from-behind win after trailing 31-20 at the start of the period.
Down 11 points, an interception in the end zone by Billy Nicoe Hurst late in the third quarter helped turned the momentum YSU’s way.
The Penguins pulled within 31-27 on an 11-yard pass from Hunter Wells to Alvin Bailey with 12:14 left in the game.
After forcing an EWU punt, Tevin McCaster’s third touchdown of the day, a 12-yard run with 6:30 left, gave YSU a 34-31 lead. The quick-strike Eagles offense answered just over two minutes later as Shaq Hill scored on a one-yard run with 4:24 left.
The Penguins took over with 4:20 remaining and with six seconds left faced a second-and-goal at the EWU five-yard line. Hunter Wells’ pass attempt in the end zone was somehow pinned on the back shoulder of EWU’s Kenter Kupp by tight end Kevin Rader, who held on for the game-winning score with just one second left.
James Madison (13-1) snapped the five-year championship run by North Dakota State with a 27-17 win over the Bison at the Fargodomein North Dakota on Dec. 16. That contest was tied 17-all in the fourth quarter before the Dukes scored the final 10 points to cap off the victory.
Saturday’s NCAA title game is the fifth all-time meeting between the Penguins and the Dukes, the last of which was also in the postseason. YSU won a memorable 35-31 nationally-televised contest in the first round of the 2006 FCS Playoffs at Stambaugh Stadium.
The Penguins enter the game with four players under suspension, while James Madison has suspended seven players from its program.
YSU ranks third all time in FCS national championships with four after winning titles in 1991, 1993, 1994 and 1997. The Penguins also appeared in the title game in 1992 and 1999 as well as playing for the Division II national title in 1979.
Rader’s unlikely game-wining catch against Eastern Washington, is not the only ‘Catch’ logged into the memory of Youngstown State grid history.
Boardman High School product Herb Williams had two of the biggest receptions in school history during the 1991 playoffs. His two key receptions in 1991 helped propel the Penguins football program to its first national championship.
Against Villanova in the first round of the playoffs, YSU began its final possession on its own 42-yard line with 2:16 remaining. After three plays lost one yard, the Penguins faced a fourth-and-11 from their 41. Quarterback Ray Isaac heaved a desperation pass downfield that was deflected but somehow was caught by Williams as he was falling to the ground at the Villanova 18-yard line. The 41-yard gain set up the game-winning field goal with six seconds left to help the Penguins advance to the second round.
In the national championship game, YSU trailed Marshall 17-6 early in the fourth quarter. Williams began the comeback with a 33-yard touchdown reception with 13:38 left to cut the deficit to 17-13. YSU went on to beat the Thundering Herd 25-17 and earn the first national title in school history.
A native of Boardman, he was a standout football and basketball player for the Spartans. Williams helped lead the Spartans grid team to a Division I state championship game appearance in 1987. He was inducted into the Boardman High School Hall of Fame in 2006.
Championship Game Notes
•YSU is bidding to become the first three-loss team to win the FCS title since Richmond in 2008.
•At the outset of the 2016 season, the YSU picked to finish fifth in the Missouri Valley Conference and were unranked in preseason polls. The highest YSU in-season ranking was 11th prior to the contest vs. UNI.
•The 2016 Penguins join the 2013 Towson Tigers and the 2014 North Dakota State Bison as teams to play 16 games in a season. However, YSU is the first team to play five FCS playoff games since the field expanded in 2010.
•YSU has won 21 consecutive games against FCS non-conference opponents dating back to a 2009 loss to Liberty.
•This season, the Penguins have set school records for sacks (47), field goals (20) and field-goal attempts (33).
•Tailback Tevin McCaster has scored a touchdown in a team-high nine games this season. YSU is 8-1 when he scores a touchdown. He had a career-high three TDs at EWU.
•YSU has not allowed a rushing touchdown in the second quarter this season.
•YSU tailback Jody Webb has had more than 200 all-purpose yards in six consecutive games. He had accomplished the feat three times in his first 40 games before his recent hot streak. In his last six games, Webb has rushed for 961 yards (160.1 per game average) on 137 carries and scored six touchdowns.
YSU has set a new school record for sacks in a season with 47. The previous mark was 44 set back in 1982.
While defensive end Derek Rivers continues to lead the team in sacks with 14, plenty of Penguins have been involved in a strong pass-rushing attack.
Defensive end Avery Moss is second on the squad with 10 sacks while defensive tackle Savon Smith is third with five and tackle Donald Mesier has three.
Linebackers Armand Dellovade and Jamar Pinnock, strong safety Jameel Smith and cornerback Kenny Bishop each have two. The combination of Moss, Rivers, Smith and Mesier have combined for 32 of the 47 sacks.
YSU Defense Ranks Highly
The Penguins’ defensive unit ranks highly in the FCS in numerous categories entering the James Madison contest.
YSU ranks ninth in scoring defense (19.4 points per game), ninth in sacks per game (3.17), 19th in total defense (324.4 yards per game), 24th in rushing defense (128.1 yards per game) and 25th in third-down percentage defense (33.8 percent).
YSU’s defense has allowed just 27 touchdowns in the last 48 quarters. The Guins did not allow an offensive touchdown against Illinois State and UNI.
The YSU defense has surrendered just 10 rushing touchdowns this year. It’s the fewest rushing touchdowns since 1996 (nine in 11 games). In the regular season, YSU allowed just three rushing scores.
Only six teams have a rushing score against YSU. The Penguins have allowed 10 rushing TDs in 60 quarters (and two OTs).
Dellovade a Key Stopper
Sophomore LB Armand Dellovade, a second-team all-league selection, leads the Penguins with 98 tackles this year, including 65 solo stops. He is third with 11.5 TFLs, which includes a pair of sacks.
In conference play he had 60 total tackles, highlighted by a career-high 11 stops against South Dakota State on Oct. 22. He had 39 solo tackles in MVFC play. Dellovade has had five-or-more tackles in 12 of the last 13 games.
Going with Wells
A familiar face has started for the Penguins the past eight games in junior quarterback Hunter Wells.
Wells, who made his season debut on Oct. 29 against Indiana State, has led the Penguins to a 7-1 record, including six straight wins, since being inserted into the lineup.
He had a season-best three touchdown passes in the double-overtime win over Wofford. At Eastern Washington he completed 16-of-24 passes for 244 yards and a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns.
At Jacksonville State he threw for 290 yards completing 10-of-18 attempts (29 per completion average). At JSU he had four passes of 35-or-more yards with completions of 85, 70, 50 and 38 yards in the contest.
A veteran with 26 career starts, he has thrown for 5,190 yards and 36 touchdowns while completing 387-of-662 passes. Last year he started all 11 games for YSU completing 159-of-291 passes for 1,975 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Three QBs Not By Design
Because of injuries, the Penguins were forced to use three quarterbacks in the come-from-behind win over UNI on Oct. 15.
Starting QB Ricky Davis played the first quarter and two drives in the second quarter before leaving the game with a lower-body injury. Second-string QB Trent Hosick played four snaps of the next drive before exiting. On a 28-yard run Hosick broke his collarbone when he was pushed to the ground out of bounds.
That forced third-string QB and scout-teamer Nathan Mays into the mix. Mays played the final possession of the first half and all of the second-half in the come-from-behind win.
Then, enter Wells!
Kennedy With 19 FGs Again
Sophomore placekicker Zak Kennedy (Boardman/Cardinal Mooney) has made 19 field goals in back-to-back seasons.
In 2015, he had an outstanding first year making 19-of-23 attempts to earn first-team All-MVFC honors.
Kennedy is 19-of-29 this season despite missing two games with an injury. He was 11-of-17 before his injury and since returning to the lineup is 8-of-12. Three of those misses were against Wofford.
At Jacksonville State he had one of the best games of his career making 4-of-5 attempts. On a freezing cold day at EWU he was 2-of-2, making a 42-yarder in the contest.
With his 19 and Connor McFadden’s field goal against Missouri State, the Penguins have set a school mark with 20 made field goals this year. The 33 attempts are also the most in school history.
PICTURED: IN HIS SECOND YEAR AT THE HELM, YOUNGSTOWN STATE Head Coach Bo Pelini will lead the Penguins (12-3) into the NCAA/FCS national title game against James Madison (13-1). Pelini has won a career-high 12 games this season hat marks the eighth time in his nine years as a collegiate head coach that Pelini has coached a team to at least nine wins. In seven full seasons at Nebraska from 2008-14 he won at least nine games each year, including 10-win seasons in 2009, 2010 and 2012. The Penguins are appearing in their seventh national championship game on the FCS level and eighth all-time when they take on the Dukes. YSU is 4-3 all-time in title tilts, with wins coming in 1991, 1993, 1994 and 1997. In 1991, YSU scored 19 fourth-quarter points to beat Marshall 25-17 in Statesboro, Ga. In 1993, the Pens beat Marshall 17-5 on its home field in Huntington, West Va. In 1994, the Penguins capped off a 14-0-1 season with a 28-14 win over Boise State in Huntington. In 1997, YSU claimed its fourth national championship with a late touchdown to beat McNeese State, 10-9, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The last time Youngstown State faced James Madison, a career night from quarterback Tom Zetts helped lead the Penguins to a come-from-behind 35-31 victory over the Dukes in the FCS playoffs at Stambaugh Stadium on Nov. 25, 2006.