Cheney, Wash. – Kevin Rader's one-handed touchdown catch from Hunter Wells in the back of the endzone with one second remaining lifted the Youngstown State football team to a 40-38 comeback victory over Eastern Washington in the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs on Saturday night at Roos Field.
The Penguins advance to their seventh FCS National Championship Game and will face James Madison on Saturday, Jan. 7, at noon eastern in Frisco, Texas.
Trailing 34-31 with 4:24 remaining, Tevin McCaster, who had a career-high 154 yards rushing and three touchdowns, ran five straight times to get to the EWU 33 before Wells hit Shane Kuhn to get to the EWU 25. After a false start gave the Penguins a third-and-6 from the Eagles 30, Wells ran for nine yards to the EWU 21 for a first down.
Wells hit Alvin Bailey for a 13-yard gain to the eight, and Wells ran for three to the EWU five before the Penguins called timeout with six seconds left. On the next play, Wells hit Rader in the back of the endzone. Rader's catch, which is being hailed as the "catch of the year" by some sports writers and television hosts, was made against an EWU defender's back.
The Penguins scored 20 points in the fourth quarter to overcome an 11-point fourth quarter deficit. They also trailed by as many as 14 in the second quarter.
Down, 31-20, entering the fourth Wells hit Bailey from 11-yards out to get within four, 31-27, at the 12:14 mark, and McCaster's one-yard run at the 6:30 mark gave YSU a 34-31 lead, its first since the first quarter.
EWU regained the lead 38-34 on a one-yard run with 4:24 left.
Senior Jody Webb ran for 101 yards and had 218 all-purpose yards, which marked the sixth straight game he went for more than 200. Webb also had 50 yards receiving and 67 yards in kickoff returns.
Wells passed for 244 yards and two touchdowns on 16-of-24 passing and connected with seven different receivers.
Bailey led the Penguins receivers with six receptions and 72 yards while Stefan Derrick had 56 yards on two catches.
On the game's opening drive, junior Jalyn Powell's second interception of the season at the YSU 20 and return to the 38 ended the Eagles drive.
Webb and McCaster combined for seven carries and 49 yards on the ground, and McCaster's four-yard plunge gave the Penguins a 7-0 lead.
Eastern Washington used the big play often and scored 17 straight points to 17-7 lead at the 12:35 mark of the second quarter.
After a Zak Kennedy 42-yard field goal and a YSU muffed punt return, Eastern Washington's Sam McPherson hit Cooper Kupp on a 32-yard halfback pass for a touchdown and 24-10 advantage.
McCaster's second touchdown of the game with 46 seconds left before halftime and Kennedy's second field goal of the game got the Penguins within four, 24-20, at the 8:19 mark of the third.
The Eagles, though, scored quickly going 65 yards on four plays to push the lead back to 11, 31-20.