Penguins Look To Remain Unbeaten At Home Against Southern Illinois

Kenny Bishop
Kenny Bishop

  The 15th-ranked Youngstown State football team plays host to Southern Illinois on Senior Day this Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium. Kickoff for the contest is set for 12:05 p.m. The game is available on WKBN 570 AM, iHeartRadio and ESPN3/WatchESPN App.
   YSU (6-3 overall and 4-2 in the MVFC) will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing 24-3 loss at fourth-ranked North Dakota State last Saturday. Once again early turnovers haunted the Penguins. The Bison jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter with 10 points coming off of turnovers. NDSU took a 7-0 lead when Chase Morlock scored on a 71-yard touchdown run on a third-and-1 play at the NDSU 29 midway through the first period. YSU then committed two turnovers in a span of four plays that gave the Bison the football at the Penguins' 25 and 15-yard lines. NDSU converted those scores into 10 points on a 36-yard Cam Pederson field goal and a 15-yard pass from Easton Stick to Jeff Illies. From that point YSU moved the ball at times but was only able to make a field goal, a 32-yarder by Zak Kennedy in the second quarter. NDSU put the game out of reach on a seven-yard touchdown run by Lance Dunn in the fourth.
    Southern Illinois (3-6, 1-5) picked up its first conference win of the season beating South Dakota 35-28 in Carbondale last Saturday. The Salukis led 21-7 at halftime and 35-14 in the fourth quarter before the Coyotes made things interesting with two touchdowns in the final 7:30. SIU racked up 574 yards of total offense in the game as Sam Straub threw for 339 yards and had a pair of touchdown passes. Straub also ran for a team-high 68 yards and the game-deciding rushing touchdown with 12:11 left in the contest.
   The Penguins-Salukis series has featured some down-to-the-wire contests. Last year in Carbondale the Guins lead 31-20 with just over five minutes left before the Salukis rallied to force overtime. SIU sent the game to overtime on a 19-yard field goal by Austin Johnson with six seconds remaining.
    In OT, Mark Iannotti found Israel Lamprakes on a 24-yard score to give the Salukis a 38-31 lead. With YSU facing a fourth-and-two at the SIU 6-yard line, TB Jody Webb's pass in the end zone was incomplete on the final play.
    In the most recent meeting in Youngstown, the Penguins beat the Salukis 26-14 in 2014. YSU has won two of the past three contests at Stambaugh Stadium and leads the overall series 14-12-1.

 

Quick Notes
• The Penguins are trying to have a perfect record at Stambaugh Stadium in the regular season for just the fifth time in school history. YSU had perfect regular-season home records in 1990, 1993, 1994 and 2005.
• YSU's last three wins have all been fourth-quarter comebacks with three different QBs leading the offense.
• The Penguins have not scored more than 14 points in each of the past four games. The last time YSU failed to score 20 points in a four-game span was in 1986.
• YSU dominated time of possession against NDSU. The Penguins held the ball for 35:48 of the contest and had 70 plays compared to NDSU's 44. The Bison had the ball for 10:15 in the fourth quarter as Guins tried to rally.
• WR Darien Townsend had a career-best seven receptions for a career-high 98 yards in the contest.
• WR Jermiah Braswell had his first career reception, a 37-yard haul in the fourth quarter.
• YSU's last five offensive touchdowns and last seven TDs overall have all been scored in the fourth quarter.
• Junior QB Hunter Wells threw for a season-high 222 yards completing 18-of-27 passes.
• On five occasions, YSU has not allowed more than 10 point in a game this year. The last time that occurred was in 2012.
• P Mark Schuler had a solid game averaging 42.8 yards a punt on four kicks. He had a long of 53 yards and three punts downed inside the 20-yard line (9, 10 and 14-yard lines).
• LB Jaylin Kelly was credtied with a career-high 13 total tackles in the game. Kelly had nine solo stops and four assists vs. NDSU.

Last Time Out: NDSU 24, YSU 3
    YSU suffered a disappointing 24-3 loss at fourth-ranked North Dakota State last Saturday at the Fargodome.
    Once again early turnovers haunted the Penguins. The Bison jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter with 10 points coming off of turnovers. NDSU took a 7-0 lead when Chase Morlock scored on a 71-yard touchdown run on a third-and-1 play at the NDSU 29 midway through the first period. YSU then committed two turnovers in a span of four plays that gave the Bison the football at the Penguins' 25 and 15-yard lines. NDSU converted those scores into 10 points on a 36-yard Cam Pederson field goal and a 15-yard pass from Easton Stick to Jeff Illies.
    From that point YSU moved the ball at times but was only able to make a field goal, a 32-yarder by Zak Kennedy in the second quarter. The Guins had three points on four trips inside the red zone in the game. NDSU put the game out of reach on a seven-yard touchdown run by Lance Dunn in the fourth.

Last Meeting: SIU 38, YSU 31
    YSU led 31-20 with five-and-a-half minutes left in the fourth quarter, but Southern Illinois rallied to force overtime and ultimately defeat the Penguins 38-31 at Saluki Stadium last year.
    After a scoreless first quarter, YSU took a 7-0 lead on a one-yard pass from Hunter Wells to Andrew Williams, but SIU tied the contest on a 63-yard pass from Mark Iannotti to Billy Reed just 47 seconds later. The Guins regained the lead when Ricky Davis scored on a five-yard run with 4:59 left in the half.
    SIU scored the first 13 points of the second half to go in front 20-14, but YSU scored the next 17 points to build its 31-20 advantage.
    Wells threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to I'tavious Harvin and followed that with an 85-yard strike down the sidelines to Andrew Williams. With 5:35 left, Zak Kennedy's 23-yard field goal gave the Guins an 11-point lead.
    Just 25 seconds later, Iannotti threw a touchdown pass to Daquan Isom, and the two-point conversion made it 31-28. SIU sent the game to overtime on a 19-yard field goal by Austin Johnson with six seconds remaining.
    In OT, Mark Iannotti found Israel Lamprakes on a 24-yard score to give the Salukis a 38-31 lead. With YSU facing a fourth-and-two at the SIU 6-yard line, TB Jody Webb's pass in the end zone was incomplete on the final play.

Senior Day on Tap
    Saturday's home game against Southern Illinois marks the final regular-season home game for a group of 17 seniors. The 2016 senior class is LeRoy Alexander, Kenny Bishop, Dylan Colucci, Joshmere Dawson, Nate Dortch, Brock Eisenhuth, Rickey Hagood, Jaylin Kelly, Avery Moss, Jamar Pinnock, David Rivers, Derek Rivers, Martin Ruiz, Jameel Smith, Eric Thompson, Jody Webb and Jacob Wood.
    Of note, 13 of the 17 have been with the program their entire four-year collegiate careers. Alexander and Moss transfered from Nebraska in 2015, Pinnock came from the junior-college ranks in 2015 and Dortch transfered from Miami (Fla.) in 2014.

YSU Defense Ranks Highly
    The Penguins' defensive unit ranks highly in the FCS in numerous categories entering the Southern Illinois contest.
    YSU ranks first in sacks per game (3.78), fifth in first downs defense (134), sixth in scoring defense (16.4 points per game), eighth in total defense (281.9 yards per game), ninth in third-down percentage defense (29.7 percent) and  17th in rushing defense (118.0 yards per game).
    YSU's defense has allowed just nine touchdowns in the last 24 quarters. The Guins did not allow an offensive touchdown against Illinois State and UNI.
    On third down, the defense has been extremely tough. In the six wins, opponents are 17-of-84 (20.2 percent). In the six MVFC games, only 20 conversions have been successful in 76 tries (26.3 percent).

Kelly Has Top Game
    Senior LB Jaylin Kelly had a standout performance against North Dakota State. Kelly was credited with 13 tackles in the contest, including nine solo stops.
    Even more impressive in the game is that NDSU had 37 non-scoring plays, meaning Kelly's nine solo stops gave him almost 25 percent of YSU's tackles.

Townsend With Big Contest
    Junior WR Darien Townsend caught a career-high seven passes for 98 yards in the loss at North Dakota State.
    Townsend leads the Penguins with 19 receptions and 289 yards. He is averaging 15.2 yards per reception and is tied for the team lead with two receiving touchdowns.

Low Drive Time
    The YSU defense has allowed four drives of 70-or-more yards in the past seven contests (two by NDSU, first quarter at SDSU and first quarter by Indiana State). In the last 83 drives, the opposition has had just 12 drives that have marched 50-or-more yards. In the last five games, a span of 56 drives, YSU has allowed just eight drives to go for 50-plus yards.

Few Rushing TDs Allowed
    The YSU defense has surrendered just three rushing touchdown this year.
    The Penguins did not yield a rushing score for the first six contests before allowing a rushing touchdown in the first quarter at South Dakota State. NDSU had two rushing scores against the Guins this past Saturday.
    YSU has allowed three rushing TDs in 36 quarters played so far this season.  The Penguins  and Colgate are tied in the FCS for fewest rushing touchdowns allowed this season. The Raiders have played eight games this year.
    Last year, YSU allowed 20 rushing touchdowns, including 14 in the conference portion of the schedule.

Approaching Sack Record
    YSU has registered 34 sacks on the season. Impressively 12 different players have at least one sack while six have at least two.
    DE Avery Moss and preseason All-American Derek Rivers both lead the way with nine each. DT Savon Smith is third on the team with five sacks while LB Armand Dellovade, LB Jamar Pinnock and DT Donald Mesier each have two. The combination of Moss, Rivers and Smith give the starting D-line 23 sacks.

Fourth Quarter Comebacks
    The Penguins have rallied for fourth-quarter wins in each of their last three victories. YSU beat Illinois State 20-6 after trailing 6-3 in the fourth, the Penguins beat UNI 14-10 after trailing 10-0 in the final period and against Indiana State the Guins overcame a 10-6 deficit to win 13-10.
    While the comebacks have been ones to remember, YSU has had three different quarterbacks play in the fourth quarters of those games. (Ricky Davis vs. Illinois State, Nathan Mays vs. UNI and Hunter Wells vs. Indiana State).

Going to the Wells
    A familiar face has started for the Penguins the past two games in junior QB Hunter Wells.
    Wells, who made his season debut on Oct. 29 against Indiana State, had a season-best 222 yards completing 18-of-27 passes at North Dakota State.
    In his first game of the 2016 season he completed 13-of-26 passes for 101 yards and had two rushes for a net of 11 yards against the Sycamores. His 14-yard run in the contest was the longest of his career.
    Last year he started all 11 games for YSU. In 2015 he completed 159-of-291 passes for 1,975 yards and 13 touchdowns. In his YSU career, he has thrown for 4,070 yards and 27 touchdowns while completing 311-of-546 passes.

Powell Emerges In Secondary
    Junior SS Jayln Powell was in the starting line for the Penguins at NDSU. Powell played instead of Jameel Smith against the Bison.
    Powell was credited with six total tackles, including five solo stops, and had a pass breakup.
    He has 14 of his 26 total tackles the last two games after a career-best eight, including seven solos, against Indiana State.

Dellovade a Key Stopper
    Sophomore LB Armand Dellovade has continued to be a key figure for the Penguins.
    He leads the squad with a career-high 60 tackles after a seven-tackle effort at North Dakota State. In conference play he has 46 total tackles, highlighted by a career-high 11 stops against South Dakota State on Oct. 22. He has 29 solo tackles in MVFC play.
    Dellovade has had five-or-more tackles in each of the last eight games.
    He came on strong as a true freshman finishing with 54 total tackles, including 32 solo stops. The honorable-mention all-league recipient started nine games and was fourth on the team in tackles.

Alexander The Great
    Senior FS LeRoy Alexander has interceptions in two of the past three games. Alexander had an interception at North Dakota State and also had a pick at South Dakota State.
    This year Alexander has 41 total tackles, including 30 solo stops, and been the leader of a veteran secondary. He had his best game of the season against Indiana State on Oct. 29 with 11 tackles, three TFLs and a pass breakup.
    Last year he was a first-team All-MVFC selection in his first season with the program after transferring from Nebraska. He was second on the team a year ago with 67 total tackles, 38 of which were solo stops.
    He showed his versatility in the YSU defensive scheme registering a pair of sacks to go along with a team-high four interceptions. He was also credited with 3.5 TFLs.

Moss Having Best Campaign
    DE Avery Moss had a career-high three sacks in the Penguins' 13-10 win over Indiana State on Oct. 29.
    In nine games, Moss has 37 total tackles, 24 of which are solo stops. He ranks fourth on the team in total tackles. Moss is tied for the team lead the team in sacks (nine) while leading in TFLs (10.5) and forced fumbles (three).
    In MVFC play he has seven sacks in six games with three coming against Indiana State and two at Illinois State. He has sacks in six of the nine games this year.
    Last year, Moss had 25 total tackles and 14 solo stops for the season. He had three sacks for the entire 2015 campaign.

Ruiz Ranks Fourth in Rushing
    Senior TB Martin Ruiz is fourth in school history in career rushing yards with 3,895.
    Following a 151-yard effort against Indiana State on Oct. 29, Ruiz has 17 100-yard rushing games and is just the third player in school history to do so. He joins Tamron Smith (22) and  Jamaine Cook (20) as players who have eclipsed the century mark in at least 17 games during a career.

Rivers The Past 32 Games
    Senior DE Derek Rivers has had an impressive YSU career, but since the start of the 2014 season, Rivers has been one of the top defensive players in the FCS.
    Overall in his career, Rivers has 141 total tackles, 98 of which are solos. He has an impressive 47 TFLs, which rank him fourth in school history. This year he has 26 tackles, 23 of which solos, with 10 TFLs and nine sacks.
    As a junior, he had 52 tackles, including an impressive 37 solo stops. He had 15.5 TFLs and nine sacks on the campaign as well. As a sophomore, Rivers was credited with 50 total tackles, including 17 TFLs and 14 sacks.
    In his last 32 games, he has 128 total tackles, 42.5 TFLs and 32 sacks.

Experienced Tailback Duo
    The Penguins boast one of the most experienced backfield tandems in the FCS in seniors Martin Ruiz and Jody Webb.
    Ruiz has played in 45 games and has rushed for 3,895 yards on 786 carries and scored 36 touchdowns. Webb has played in 40 contests, rushing for 2,257 yards on 348 attempts while scoring 24 touchdowns. Both runners rank in the top 11 in the FCS in active career yardage.
     Ruiz has rushed for at least 74 yards in a game on 31 occasions in 44 career games played.

McCaster Also Involved
    Sophomore TB Tevin McCaster has been a key part in the Penguins' rotation. McCaster is YSU's second-leading rusher this season with 390 yards.
    In the win over UNI he had 29 hard-earned yards on 12 carries. He scored YSU's first touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter. At South Dakota State he had YSU's lone touchdown of the contest.
    At Illinois State he finished with 81 yards on 10 carries. He had six yards on three attempts in the first half before rushing for 75 on seven carries in the second half. His performance was bolstered by a 56-yard run in the fourth quarter.
    Against Duquesne, he carried the ball seven times for 107 yards and a touchdown. Impressively all seven carries came in the fourth quarter. Against Robert Morris he had a career-high 15 carries for 87 yards and a TD.

Rivers Owns Sack Mark
    Senior DE Derek Rivers is the school's all-time sack leader with 35.
    On Oct. 17, 2015, following a two-sack performance against South Dakota State, Rivers eclipsed the school mark of 22 which had been held by Jermaine Hopkins since 1995. Hopkins played for the Penguins from 1992-95, and his career sack totals include postseason contests.
    Impressively, it took Rivers just 28 games to break the 20-year-old record.
    Last season, Rivers had nine sacks after registering 14 sacks in 2014. During his first campaign in 2013 he had three.
    He has nine sacks  this year to go along with 11 QB hurries. His career high in sacks is 14, which he set in 2014.
    Rivers has had at least one sack in 17 of his last 25 games.

Call 9-11
    The Penguins' defensive-end combo of Avery Moss (No. 9) and Derek Rivers (No. 11) is one of the top ones in the nation as they rank fourth in the FCS in sacks per game.
    WVU Head Coach Dana Holgorsen was quoted as saying following the contest "These two cats that we played against from Youngstown State were as good of pass rushers as I've seen" (h/t @mitchsherman).
    Through nine games, Rivers has nine sacks and 11 quarterback hurries while Moss has nine sacks and seven QB hurries. Moss has 37 total tackles, 24 of which are solos, while Rivers has 26 tackles on the year, 23 of which are solos.

Schuler Shows Big Leg
    Redshirt freshman P Mark Schuler has had  a strong start to his career. Schuler leads all freshman FCS punters and ranks 15th overall averaging 42.4 yards per kick. He has 10 punts of 50 yards or longer and has placed 17 inside the 20-yard line.
    Against Indiana State he boomed a career-long 62-yard punt to average 46.4 yards on five attempts. Other MVFC games of note for Schuler were against UNI when he had four punts and averaged 46.5 yards a boot; at Illinois State he averaged 45.7 yards per punt on six kicks, with a long of 55; and he had a 54-yard punt vs. South Dakota in his lone attempt.
    Schuler punted eight times for an average of 44.5 yards a kick at West Virginia. Schuler had kicks of 59, 51, 50 and 47 yards among his kicks.

Kennedy Keeps Excelling
    Sophomore PK Zak Kennedy is having another solid year so far for the Penguins.
    This season, Kennedy is 11-of-17 on field-goal attempts and 23-of-23 on PAT tries. He has excelled at kickoffs with 21 touchbacks in 35 attempts. Last year he had four touchbacks in 29 kickoffs. As a squad last year, YSU kickoff specialists had just nine touchbacks in 11 games.
    He set the school record with 19 field goals in 2015. Kennedy was a first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference honoree in his first year. He was the first freshman PK since UNI's Scott Obermeier in 1992 to be tabbed first team.
    In his career, he has made field goals in 18 games and attempted kicks in 19 of 20 contests.

Townsend Earns Honor
    Junior WR/PR Darien Townsend was named the FCS Special Teams Player of the Week following the contest against Indiana State.
    Townsend's 79-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter gave the Penguins a 13-10 lead and helped propel them to the comeback win.
    Townsend has been a key asset in the punt-return game the last three contests. His last six returns have gone for a total of 189 yards - an average of 31.5 yards a return.

Ruiz High On Lists
    Senior TB Martin Ruiz ranks in the top six in school history in five statistical categories.
    Ruiz is third in school history with 4,785 all-purpose yards; third in school history with 17 100-yard rushing games; fourth in rushing yards; fifth in carries and sixth in rushing touchdowns.
    He is one of six players in school history to rush for more than 3,500 yards in a career.

Numbers of Note
• Turnover Margin: Since 1996, the Penguins are 126-33 when they win or tie in the turnover margin. When committing more turnovers, YSU is just 23-61.
Since 1990 YSU is:
• 155-19-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points in a game.
• 126-16 when rushing for 200-plus yards.
• 148-25 when scoring 28-or-more points.
• 80-9-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in a game.
• 179-15 when leading entering the fourth.
• 83-3-2 when holding opponents to 10 points-or-less in a game.
More recently:
• YSU has scored points in 100 straight games.

Up Next: Missouri State
    The Penguins play their game of the regular season at Missouri State next Saturday in Springfield, Mo.