YSU’s road to Frisco: Penguins’ 2016 season review

YSU's season began on Sept. 1 first with a win; The Penguins enter Frisco riding a six-game win-streak

YSU vs Eastern Washington – FCS Semifinal

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – On Saturday when Youngstown State plays for the FCS National Championship, it will mark the Penguins’ 16th game of the season. It’s a school-record — and no other FBS or FCS team will play as many games in the 2016 college football season.

But before YSU (12-3) takes on James Madison (13-1) for the FCS title Saturday in Frisco, Texas, here’s a look back at the Penguins’ first 15 games…

Week 1: 45-10 win vs. Duquesne — The 2016 season started under the lights on a Thursday night (Sept. 1) and the Penguins played great in front of great crowd. They racked up 610 yards of total offense and 45 points against Duquesne, making it 21 straight home-opener wins at Youngstown State.

Week 2: 38-21 loss at West Virginia — In YSU’s first game ever against against a Big 12 opponent, Alvin Bailey’s 74-yard touchdown had the Penguins leading late in the second quarter. But West Virginia won 10 games this year, including this one.

Week 3: 38-6 win vs. Robert Morris — The Penguins bounced back with three touchdown runs from Martin Ruiz in route to a 32-point win.

Week 4: Bye

Week 5: 30-20 win vs. South Dakota — Derek Rivers notched two sacks as YSU notched its first league win of the season.

Week 6: 20-6 win at Illinois State — The Penguins’ defense continued to dominate as YSU recorded six sacks and the offense scored 17 fourth-quarter points to knock off the Redbirds.

Week 7: 14-10 win vs. Northern Iowa —  Defense once again set the tone — and Ruiz scored a 1-yard TD with 28 seconds left to seal the deal against Northern Iowa, making the Penguins a perfect 3-0 in league play. “I’ve been coaching a long time — and I’ll tell you what I just told our team — I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud of guys in a locker room than I am in this team,” Pelini said after the win.

In a contest that was delayed for more than an hour due to severe weather, Youngstown State routed Robert Morris, 38-6, at Stambaugh Stadium as senior running back Ruiz scored three touchdowns and racked up 186 total yards.Week 8: 24-10 loss at South Dakota State — After allowing two touchdowns in the first four minutes, the Penguins suffered their first conference loss.

Week 9: 13-10 win vs. Indiana State — In the return of Hunter Wells at quarterback, the Penguins played down to the wire with Indiana State. They clinched the win after a fourth quarter punt return touchdown from Darien Townsend. YSU’s defense also totaled 7 sacks, including three from senior Avery Moss.

Week 10: 24-3 loss at North Dakota State — YSU’s third loss of the campaign came in Fargo. The Penguins fell behind early and dropped their fifth straight to the five-time national champs.

Week 11: 21-14 win vs. Southern Illinois — For the first time since 2005, YSU finished the regular season undefeated at home. Jody Webb ran for a career-high 167 yards in the win.

Week 12: 65-20 win at Missouri State — The Penguins set a school-record with 747 yards of total offense, locking up a spot in the playoffs for the first time in 10 years. “Yeah, I think it’s obvious — I think we’re a top team in this conference,” Pelini said after the win. “We can play and we can beat anybody.”

Playoffs, Round 1: 38-24 win vs. Samford — The Penguins’ drive for a fifth national title started at home. And with the offensive line playing great, Webb, once again, set a new personal-best with 174 yards rushing in the win.

Playoffs, Round 2: 40-24 win at Jacksonville State — The first seeded-team to fall in YSU’s playoff run was Jacksonville State. The Penguins led throughout as Wells passed for 290 yards and Webb ran for 140 yards.

Playoffs, Quarterfinal: 30-23 (2OT) win vs. Wofford — It took double-overtime, but YSU indeed edged the terriers. Webb notched a school-record 331 all-purpose yards and Tevin McCaster scored the game-winning TD.

Playoffs, Semifinal: 40-38 win at Eastern Washington — The Penguins’ win at Eastern Washington was one of the best in school history. YSU nearly doubled EWU’s time of possession on offense and Kevin Rader’s one-handed, behind-the-defenders-back catch in the end zone with one second left sealed the win. The victory sent the Penguins back to the National Championship for the 7th time in school history. “To me, our kids fight — and doesn’t that signify Youngstown?” Pelini said after the game. “They represent Youngstown the way it should be represented.”

YSU’s showdown with James Madison for the FCS National Championship can be seen on ESPN2 at noon on Saturday. Also be sure to check WKBN.com for in-game updates and postgame coverage, and watch WKBN First News at 6 for complete live coverage from Frisco.

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