YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Hunter Wells probably wouldn’t have believed you if, in early September, you told him he’d eventually throw the game-winning touchdown pass to send Youngstown State to the National Championship.
Same goes for if you told him that three weeks into the season…or in early October…or in Week 8 on Oct. 22.
And for good reason: The junior quarterback had yet to appear in a game, while three other Penguins QBs took their turn under center.
However — due to injuries and the perfect set of circumstances — Wells finally got his chance Week 9 (Oct. 29) against Indiana State. And almost two months later, believe it or not, he indeed tossed the game-winning touchdown pass last Saturday to beat Eastern Washington, 40-38, and send YSU (12-3) to the title game on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas.
“That’s kind of been the story of our whole season,” Wells said in Eastern Washington, just moments after he connected with Kevin Rader for a thrilling 4-yard TD pass with only 1 second remaining. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but offensively and defensively, if you would have looked seven weeks ago, you didn’t see that many faces that were out there tonight.”
Wells’ rise from the bench — from fourth-string to starter — is probably the most unlikely.
While the 6-foot-5 righty was the Penguins’ starting QB as a freshman and sophomore, he entered this season in a QB competition after a poor 2015 campaign.
Fellow junior Ricky Davis was named the starter out of camp, but reportedly suffered a concussion Week 2 at West Virginia and never really recovered. Junior transfer Trent Hosick got his chance, but suffered a season-ending injury on Oct. 15 against UNI. Redshirt freshman Nathan Mays also received snaps before Wells, but is mainly a running threat who has only thrown 17 passes in 11 games.
Enter Wells, who — as unlikely as it seemed for the first two months of the season — has guided YSU to a 7-1 record since taking over in late October.
“I always tell them — I don’t have a crystal ball,” Head Coach Bo Pelini said after Wells went 16 for 24 for 244 yards and two TDs against EWU. “You don’t know how you’re gonna win or how it’s gonna go each week. But if you just keep playing and going to the next day, you can outlast a lot of people. Our kids have done that.”
Wells started slow stepping into action, throwing three interceptions and no TDs in his first two games (YSU went 1-1).
But since Nov. 12, the Penguins have won six straight — including four playoff games — as Wells has tossed nine touchdowns, one interception and 1,130 yards.
Prior to his terrific performance at Eastern Washington, he notched three TD passes against Wofford the week before. He also threw for 290 yards and a TD at Jacksonville State on Dec. 3.
We’ll find out if he can stay hot against championship-foe James Madison (13-1) in a few weeks.
Then again, Wells’ season has been the epitome of unlikely.
“The way this team is, we just find a way to win,” Wells said. “And I think that’s the best quality you can have. We’re so mentally tough — we just don’t stop. We never think that we’re out of the game, regardless of the score.”
Thank you everyone for the support I appreciate it! More importantly WE ARE GOING TO FRISCO BABY!!! I love this team so much! #GoGuins 🐧
— Hunter🐧 (@h_wells8) December 18, 2016
WKBN will be airing a live pregame show, “YSU Drive for Five,” on Friday, Jan. 6 at 7 p.m. on WKBN Channel 27 and WKBN.com.