The 1991 National Champions

1991 National Championship Team

Although the 1991 season had many miraculous moments, the biggest turning point of the year, and, perhaps the program's history, came against Georgia Southern on Nov. 2.

Both the Penguins and Eagles entered the game with 4-3 records with YSU losing two straight contests. The loser was out of playoff contention while the winners' postseason hopes continued.

YSU jumped out to a 12-0 halftime lead before GSU kicked a field goal just before the first half ended. Ray Isaac scored on a 33-yard touchdown run to put the Penguins in front 19-3 then in the fourth, YSU had to hang on.

Georgia Southern, winners of 53 of its last 55 home games and the two-time defending national champions, pulled within 19-17 with 5:40 but failed to tie the game missing the two-point conversion. YSU's offense kept the ball the final 5:40 of the game converting two fourth-down plays to earn the victory.

YSU ended the regular season with wins over James Madison, Slippery Rock and Towson State to make the playoffs.

In the first round against Villanova, YSU trailed 16-7 before Leo Hawkins scored on a one-yard touchdown run in the third cutting the deficit to 16-14. In the final two minutes, Youngstown State faced a fourth-down-and-11 play and turned in another memorable moment when Ray Isaacs' pass was deflected and then caught by Herb Williams for 41 yards.

Jeff Wilkins kicked a 33-yard field goal with six seconds left to send the Penguins into another thriller in the quarterfinals at top-seeded Nevada-Reno.

At Nevada-Reno, YSU jumped out to a 17-3 lead and led 30-20 in the fourth quarter to set up an amazing finish. With just over seven minutes remaining, the Wolfpack scored to cut the deficit to four. After YSU mishandled a punt for a safety, Nevada stormed down the field to set up a 27-yard field goal attempt by Rick Schwendinger, but with one second left, his kick sailed wide left.

In the semifinals, YSU's defense was the star scoring on a fumble return, intercepting six passes and holding Samford to minus-4 yards rushing in a 10-0 Penguin win. Samford had just 144 yards of total offense, was 0-of-19 on third-down conversions and committed eight turnovers in the game.

Chris Vecchione returned a fumble six yards for a touchdown in the first and Wilkins kicked a 28-yard field goal in the third for the games only points.

Tamron Smith carried the load for YSU with a school-record 46 carries for 246 yards on a cold and rainy day at Stambaugh Stadium.

YSU returned to the site of its biggest victory of the season playing Marshall for the National Championship at Paulson Stadium in Statesboro, Ga. Again, the Penguins pulled out a thrilling win coming from behind to win 25-17 by scoring 19 fourth-quarter points.

Marshall owned a 17-6 lead entering the fourth but an Isaac to Williams 33-yard touchdown pass and a three-yard touchdown run by Ryan Wood gave YSU an 18-17 lead. Smith added a five-yard touchdown rush to give the Penguins a 25-17. A desperation pass by Marshall's Michael Payton was knocked down in the end zone on the game's final play.