YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – First playoff game in 10 years. A double-overtime win. An instant-classic national semifinal victory.
Youngstown State’s 2016 football season has definitely been one to remember — with one more game remaining, of course.
As the Penguins (12-3) prepare for the FCS National Championship on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Tex., against James Madison (13-1), here’s a look back at YSU’s top five games so far this season:
1.) Dec. 17 at Eastern Washington, 40-38 win — YSU’s biggest win since the 1997 National Championship? The thrilling victory on the Eagles’ red turf clinched a trip to the upcoming National Championship — and it took everything the Penguins had to do so. Playing amidst suspensions to four starters, Hunter Wells connected with Kevin Rader for a dramatic game-winning TD catch with just one-second remaining. Even more, YSU rallied from deficits of 24-10 and 31-20 to down favored EWU (which entered 12-1).
2.) Dec. 3 at Jacksonville State, 40-24 win — YSU showed here it was a legitimate national title contender. In the second round playoff matchup, the Penguins trounced favored JSU (which entered 10-1) behind a dominant offense that had been quiet for most of the season. YSU racked up 520 total yards, led by Jody Webb (140 rush yards and 2 TDs) and Wells (290 pass yards, 70-yard TD to start the game). After the Gamecocks cut the Penguins’ lead to 27-24 in the third, YSU finished strong with 13 unanswered points.
3.) Dec. 10 vs. Wofford, 30-23 (2OT) win — The final home game of the season — a playoff quarterfinal — capped a perfect 8-0 home slate for YSU at Stambaugh Stadium in 2016. It also gave the fans all they could ask for and more. Wofford took a 23-20 lead early in the fourth quarter, but YSU tied it with a Zak Kennedy field goal, before the Terriers missed a potential game-winning FG as time expired. In OT, the elite Penguins defense got a big stop on Wofford’s first possession, although Kennedy missed a game-winner on YSU’s offensive try. That led to the second OT, where Tevin McCaster notched a 2-yard TD run and YSU’s defense came up with one final stop.
4.) Oct. 29 vs. Indiana State, 13-10 win — A game YSU probably should have lost, but somehow came out victorious after falling behind 10-0. The Penguins offense — in Wells’ first start all season — scored no touchdowns and gained just 291 total yards. But YSU’s defense dominated like it did for much of the season, allowing zero points after the first quarter. That allowed the Penguins to steal a victory when Darien Townsend returned a punt 79 yards for a TD early in the fourth quarter to give YSU its 13-10 lead it never relinquished.
5.) Nov. 19 at Missouri State, 65-20 win — The Penguins absolutely dominated the Bears, spring-boarding their way into the playoffs after five-straight shaky weeks of football. The win that improved YSU to 8-3 and cemented its name in the postseason bracket saw the Penguins jump out to a 34-10 halftime lead…and 51-10 third quarter lead. They also amassed a school-record 747 yards of total offense, while the defense forced four turnovers. Martin Ruiz ran for 183 yards, Webb added 166 rush yards and Wells completed 14 of 15 passes.
Just missed the list — Nov. 26 vs. Samford, 38-24 win (First YSU playoff game since 2006) … Oct. 8 at Illinois State, 20-6 win (YSU scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter after entering trailing 6-3) … Sept. 10 at West Virginia, 38-21 loss (YSU showed it could compete with the best, leading WVU 14-7 in the second quarter and going into halftime tied. However, the Penguins were done in by a 17-0 third quarter in favor of the Mountaineers).
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.