Penguins Open 2017 Season at Pittsburgh

LB Lee Wright
LB Lee Wright

    The Youngstown State football team opens the 2017 campaign with a contest against ACC member Pittsburgh on Sept. 2. Kickoff for the game at Heinz Field is set for 1 p.m. The game is available on the ACC Network Extra, Watch ESPN, WKBN 570 AM and iHeartRadio.
    YSU is coming off a memorable 2016 campaign that saw it play a school record 16 games and reach the Division I National Championship Game. It was the Penguins' first appearance in the title tilt since 1999. After winning four playoff games - including wins at No. 2 Eastern Washington and No. 3 Jacksonville State - to advance to the final in Frisco, Texas, the Guins came up short falling to fourth-seed James Madison 28-14. YSU finished with a 12-4 record and improved its FCS all-time playoff record to an impressive 28-9 (.757 winning percentage).
    Pitt entertains the Penguins following an 8-5 season. The Panthers were the only team to defeat College Football Playoff Champion Clemson last year. That win was a wild 43-42 triumph in Death Valley on Nov. 12. Pitt won its final three regular season games before falling 31-24 to Northwestern at the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. The Panthers protected Heinz Field well, posting a 6-1 mark in home games with the lone loss coming to Virginia Tech.
    The past two meetings between the programs have been hard-fought contests. The 2015 bout featured the school debuts for YSU Head Coach Bo Pelini and Pitt Head Coach Pat Narduzzi. In a high-scoring affair that saw both teams strike for long scores, the Panthers won 45-37 at Heinz Field. The Guins had the ball in Pitt territory late in the game before falling.
    In 2012, the Guins battled a delayed start and on-and-off rain to beat the Panthers 31-17 at Heinz Field to open that campaign. YSU took a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter before extending the lead to 28-10 early in the fourth period. In the series' first two contests, Pitt had the upper hand outscoring the Penguins by a 79-3 margin (2005 and 2009).   
    YSU plays its first of three straight home games on Saturday, Sept. 9, when it plays host to Robert Morris at Stambaugh Stadium. Kickoff for the contest against the Colonials is set for 2 p.m.

 

Quick Notes
• YSU will be starting its 77th season of football on Saturday at Pittsburgh. It's the third time in the past six years (2012, 2015, 2017) that the Penguins have opened at Pitt.
• In the preseason FCS Top 25 polls, YSU is ranked eighth in the Coaches Poll and ninth in the STATS, Inc., poll. STATS, Inc. features a panel of media members and select FCS Athletics Communications individuals.
• YSU has 20 seniors on the roster with 12 on the offensive side and eight on defense. Four positions have the bulk of the group - four wide receivers, three tight ends, three offensive lineman and three in the secondary.
• Current Penguins who played in the 2015 contest at Pitt include QB Hunter Wells, OT Justin Spencer, C Cole Newsome, PK Zak Kennedy, WR Ricky Davis, S Soloman Warfield, S Jayln Powell, CB D.J. Thomas, WR Isiah Scott, LB Armand Dellovade, LS Steven Wethli, OT Cameron Fraser, TE Shane Kuhn, TE Kevin Rader, TE Anthony Parente and DT Savon Smith.
• Players who started all 16 games last year who return for YSU this season are OT Justin Spencer, OG Gavin Wiggins, C Vitas Hrynkiewicz and LB Armand Dellovade.
• In the season-opening game following an appearance in the FCS title game, YSU is 4-1-1.
• The 2016 Penguins joined the 2013 Towson Tigers and the 2014 North Dakota State Bison as teams to play 16 games in a season. However, YSU is the first team to play five FCS playoff games since the field expanded in 2010.
• The final three game-time temperatures YSU played in last year were - 23 vs. James Madison, 12 at Eastern Washington and 28 against Wofford. That's a combined 63 degrees.
• Last year YSU had to play against the MVFC Offensive Player of the Year (regular season), the SoCon Offensive Player of the Year, the OVC Offensive Player of the Year, the co-Big Sky Offensive Players of the Year and the CAA Offensive Player of the Year.
• LB Armand Dellovade, P Mark Schuler, OT Justin Spencer and C Vitas Hrynkiewicz were named first-team preseason All-MVFC in 2017.
• TB Tevin McCaster scored a touchdown in a team-high nine games last season. YSU was 8-1 when he scores a touchdown. He had a career-high three TDs at Eastern Washington.
• McCaster had 31 yards rushing as a freshman and jumped to 638 yards last year. In fact he had more touchdowns - 11 in 2016 - than carries - seven in 2015 - the previous year.
• WR Alvin Bailey had a catch in all 15 games he played in last year.
• LB Armand Dellovade had five-or-more tackles in 13 of his final 14 games in 2016.
• YSU had two draft picks in the 2017 NFL Draft. DE Derek Rivers (Patriots) and DE Avery Moss (Giants) were selected. YSU had not had a draft pick since 1998.

Last Time Out: JMU 28, YSU 14
    After starting the season unranked, the Penguins reached the Division I National Championship Game for the seventh time in school history.
    In its first January contest in school history, YSU finished strong but was done in by a slow start in a 28-14 loss to James Madison at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Jan. 7, 2017.
    The Penguins trailed 21-0 midway through the second quarter after the Dukes opened with two first period touchdowns and found the end zone for the third time with 8:17 left in the second quarter.
    The Guins cut into the deficit when Hunter Wells connected with Shane Kuhn on an 18-yard touchdown pass with 3:35 left in the second quarter.
    Khalid Abdullah's second touchdown run of the game gave JMU at 28-7 lead just 4:50 into the third quarter.
    YSU's defense clamped down on the Dukes the remainder of the game while Wells threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Jermiah Braswell for the final outcome.

Last Meeting: Pitt 45, YSU 37
    YSU dropped its season-opener 45-37 to Pittsburgh at Heniz Field on Sept. 2, 2015. The high-scoring contest featured six touchdowns of more than 41 yards, with five of at least 55 yards.
    The Penguins took the early lead before Pitt built a 17-3 advantage late in the second quarter.  SS LeRoy Alexander returned an interception 41 yards for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 17-13 before the Panthers' Avonte Maddox answered with an 89-yard kickoff return to make the score 24-13 at halftime.
    The Guins trailed 31-16 late in the third quarter before TB Jody Webb scored on a 27-yard run to make it a 31-23 game after three.
    Pitt added a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but each time YSU responded. Hunter Wells hit Andre Stubbs on a 77-yard touchdown pass, and Webb scored on a 75-yard jaunt to make the contest 45-37 with 4:24 remaining. YSU had one last possession but was halted at the Pitt 44 with just over two minutes left.

2016 Playoff Run
    YSU became the first team to play five FCS playoff games since the field expanded in 2010.
    The Guins played the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seeded teams in three of the five games, playing the top two on the road - No. 2 Eastern Washington and No. 3 Jacksonville State.
    YSU opened with a first-round home win over Samford before heading to third-seed JSU. The Penguins beat the Gamecocks 40-24 in the second round, handing them their first home loss since December 2014 (15 games).
    The Guins caught a break when Wofford upset sixth-seed The Citadel to set up a quarterfinal matchup in Youngstown. Against the run-oriented Terries the Penguins fought back to force overtime, eventually winning 30-23 in second overtime.
    The semifinals sent the Penguins to second-seed Eastern Washington. In the coldest playoff game in school history (12 official degrees), YSU rallied from down 31-20 in the fourth quarter to win 40-38. The contest came down to the final play as Hunter Wells' touchdown pass to Kevin Rader with one-second left gave YSU the come-from-behind win.
    In the title game, the Penguins lost to fourth-seeded James Madison. The Dukes had been ranked in the top 10 all year while the Guins only cracked the top 10 in the final poll of the season.

Season Openers
    The Penguins are 42-32-2 all-time in season openers. In eight of the previous 10 openers, the Guins have started the year on the road against a Power Five conference foe.
    The season-opening wins since 2007, when YSU opened against a Power Five school (Ohio State) for the first time in school history, were at Pittsburgh in 2012, at home against Dayton in 2014 and Duquesne last year.
    Head Coach Bo Pelini's first game on the YSU sidelines came at Pittsburgh in 2015.

20 Seniors Breakdown
    The roster feature 20 seniors who have come to YSU through a variety of ways. Eight of the 20 have spent their entire college careers at YSU.
    Five players redshirted in 2013 and are fifth-year seniors this season - Ricky Davis, Cole Newsome, Anthony Parente, Kevin Rader and Justin Spencer. Davis has moved to wide receiver after serving as a quarterback his first four years. Rader was a originally a defensive end his first two seasons before moving to tight end.
    Three seniors on the roster joined the program in 2014 and never redshirted - TE Shane Kuhn, DB DJ Thomas and QB Hunter Wells. DE Fazson Chapman came to YSU in 2013, then spent the 2014 season at Rochester Community College, before returning in 2015. LB Lee Wright transferred to YSU from Appalachian State while OT Cameron Fraser joined the team from Louisville in 2014.
    Those who have been with the program for three seasons include Big Ten transfers Jalyn Powell (Michigan State) and Soloman Warfield (Iowa) and junior college transfer Lasander Washington.
    Five junior college transfers and an FBS transfer are in their second seasons at YSU. Alvin Bailey joined the program in the spring of 2016 from Florida. Junior college transfers who came to YSU last summer are Stefan Derrick, Donald Mesier, Trent Hosick, Billy Nicoe Hurst and Damoun Patterson.
    Hosick came to YSU as a quarterback but is a reserve defensive back this season.

PENN Guins
    YSU has 15 Keystone State natives on its roster.
    Braxton Chapman (Farrell, Pa.), Antoine Cook (McKeesport, Pa.), Armand Dellovade (Imperial, Pa.), Bryce Gibson (Johnstown, Pa.), Shane Kuhn (Vandergrift, Pa.), Tevin McCaster (New Castle, Pa.), Cole McKenry (Pittsburgh, Pa.), Mike Nash (Pittsburgh, Pa.), Malachi Newell (Farrell, Pa.), Anthony Parente (Pittsburgh, Pa.), Kevin Rader (Pittsburgh, Pa.), Christiaan Randall-Posey (Pittsburgh, Pa.), Justin Spencer (Indiana, Pa.), Steven Wethli (New Castle, Pa.), Gavin Wiggins (Philadelphia, Pa.).

Spencer A Mainstay
    Senior OT Justin Spencer, a preseason third-team All-America pick, has been a mainstay on the offensive line for the Guins since 2014.
    A preseason All-MVFC first-team selection, Spencer has started all 39 games in his three-year YSU career. After playing right tackle his first two years with the program, Spencer moved to left tackle in 2016 where he started all 16 games for the Penguins.
    He was a second-team All-MVFC pick in 2016 and an honorable-mention selection in 2015.

Offensive Line A Key
    A big key to YSU's success last year was the offensive line. Four Penguins started all 16 games while the same unit was in the starting lineup for the final 13 contests.
    Three of those Penguins return this season in C Vitas Hrynkiewicz, OG Gavin Wiggins and OT Justin Spencer. Dylan Colucci started all 16 games at right tackle last year while Brock Eisenhuth started the final 13 at right guard.
    Cameron Fraser, who started the first three games at guard last year, is slated to start at right tackle against Pittsburgh. Jacob Zinni, a third-year sophomore, is slated to start at right guard. Zinni has played in two games in his YSU career.

Florida Duo at WR
    YSU's top two returning receivers are Florida natives Alvin Bailey and Damoun Patterson. Last season Bailey caught a team-high 47 passes for 511 yards and five touchdowns while Patterson had 20 receptions for 484 yards and two TDs.
    Patterson averaged a school record 24.2 yards per catch, breaking the mark of 23.4 set in 1969 by Dave DelSignore. He was a big-play receiver with nine of his 20 grabs going for 28 yards or more.
    In the playoffs, Bailey had 25 catches for 239 yards and a touchdown. He had a season-best seven grabs in the National Championship game against James Madison for 68 yards.

Guins In Pro Camps
    Under Head Coach Bo Pelini, the Penguins have seen a rise in former players invited to pro camps.
    Following Pelini's first year at YSU, CB Kenneth Durden signed with Oakland and played in the early portion of the 2016 season for the Raiders.
    YSU had two draft picks in the most recent NFL Draft in DE Derek Rivers (Patriots) and DE Avery Moss (Giants). The Penguins had not had a single player drafted since 1998 before having the pair selected in 2017. Unfortunately, Rivers suffered a torn ACL in drills in August and will miss the 2017 season.
    Also getting invites to fall camps were CB Kenny Bishop (Packers) and CB David Rivers (Packers/Jets) while OT Dylan Colucci (Panthers/Steelers), TB Jody Webb (Los Angeles Chargers) and S LeRoy Alexander (Cardinals) each attended a rookie tryout.

Pelini Sets Best Win Mark
    Head Coach Bo Pelini won a career-high 12 games last season in his second campaign with the program.
    It marked the eighth time in his nine years as a collegiate head coach that Pelini has coached a team to at least nine wins.
    In seven full seasons at Nebraska from 2008-14, he won at least nine games each year, including 10-win seasons in 2009, 2010 and 2012.

Fourth Quarter Wins
    The Penguins rallied for fourth-quarter wins five times last season and won another game when tied in the fourth.
    In the regular season, YSU beat Illinois State 20-6 after trailing 6-3 in the fourth on Oct. 8. The Penguins beat UNI 14-10 after trailing 10-0 in the final period on Oct. 15. Against Indiana State the Guins overcame a 10-6 deficit to win 13-10 on a late punt return for a score on Oct. 29. Against Southern Illinois, the contest was tied at 14 in the fourth before YSU won 21-14.
    In the postseason, YSU was behind Wofford 23-20 before a field goal tied the game. The Guins won that game in the second overtime. The Penguins trailed EWU 38-34 before scoring a TD with one second left to win 40-38.

McCaster TD A Good Sign
    Junior TB Tevin McCaster became a key part of the backfield rotation a year ago and this season is slated to start at the position. McCaster was second on the team in touchdowns with 11 in 2016. He had rushing touchdowns in nine different games, and YSU was 8-1 in contests when he scored, including playoff wins over Samford, Wofford and Eastern Washington.
    McCaster rushed for 652 yards on 129 carries in 2016. At EWU he had a career-high 154 yards on 29 carries and scored three touchdowns in the FCS semifinals.
    He was the only running back to play in all 16 games in 2016.

Dellovade a Key Stopper
    Junior LB Armand Dellovade, a 2016 second-team all-league selection, led the Penguins with 105 tackles last year, including 70 solo stops. He was third with 11.5 TFLs, which included a pair of sacks.
    In conference play, he had 60 total tackles, highlighted by a career-high 11 stops against South Dakota State on Oct. 22. Dellovade had five-or-more tackles in 13 of the last 14 games. Against JMU in the national title game he had seven tackles, including five solos. In total he had 31 tackles in the five playoff games.

The Wright Stuff
    Senior LB Lee Wright, a 2015 second-team All-MVFC honoree, returned to the lineup for the postseason last year and will be in the starting lineup come Saturday.
    He started three of the final four playoff games for the Penguins and was credited with 29 total tackles (21 solos) in the postseason.
    In the National Championship Game against JMU, he had eight total tackles, five of which were solo stops. At EWU he had seven tackles (four solos), three TFLs, two QB hurries and a pass breakup. Against Wofford he had seven tackles, including six solo stops. In his first start of the year at Jacksonville State, he had six tackles, including five solos, and a pass breakup.
    In 2015, Wright started all 11 games and led the Penguins with 78 total tackles, including 48 solo stops. He also had six sacks and 9.5 TFLs.

New Faces Emerge
    The Penguins will be relying on a lot of new faces to contribute immediately.
    True freshmen Terray Bryant, Melvin Jackson, Christian Turner and Bryce Gibson are all expected to contibute as the season starts. Turner is one of YSU's top kick returners and could see time in the backfield. Gibson had an impressive fall camp and could see time at cornerback.
    Late junior college additions are also expected to contribute. Will Latham, Tommy McGraw and Deshon Taylor joined the program just prior to the start of fall camp. McGraw is a backup defensive tackle while Taylor and Latham will be on special teams units and add secondary depth.
    Florida transfer DE Justus Reed joined the program in mid-June. Reed had a strong fall camp and is a backup at defensive end.
    Other late July signees, OG Jamie Herr and Logan Creek, are backups on the offensive line.

Kennedy With 19 FGs Again
    Junior PK Zak Kennedy has made 19 field goals in each of his first two seasons. In 2015, he had an outstanding first year making 19-of-23 attempts to earn first-team All-MVFC honors.
    Kennedy was 19-of-29 last season despite missing two games with an injury. He was 11-of-17 before his injury and since returning to the lineup went 8-of-12.
    At Jacksonville State he had one of the best games of his career making 4-of-5 attempts. On a freezing cold day at EWU he was 2-of-2, making a 42-yarder in the contest.
    In his two seasons as YSU's placekicker, Kennedy is 38-of-52 in field-goal tries.
    Last season YSU set school records for field goals made and attempted.

Wells Digs In
    A familiar face started the final nine games last year for the Penguins in QB Hunter Wells.
    Wells made his season debut on Oct. 29 against Indiana State and led the Guins to a 7-2 record, including four playoff wins.
    A veteran with 27 career starts, he has thrown for 5,471 yards and 38 touchdowns while completing 416-of-711 passes. In nine games last year he threw for 1,724 yards completing 136-of-217 passes. In 2015, he completed 159-of-291 passes for 1,975 yards and 13 touchdowns.

TEs Could Play Big Role
    While TE Kevin Rader received all the headlines for his game-winning catch at Eastern Washington, the position is one of the deepest and most experienced heading into the Pitt game.
    YSU has three senior tight ends in Rader, Shane Kuhn and Anthony Parente and a fourth-year junior in transfer Chris Durkin.
    Rader had a career year last year with 17 receptions after having just two entering the season. Kuhn tied a career-high with six catches and has 12 in his career. Kuhn also has 31 rushes for 95 yards and five touchdowns.
    In total, the group has combined to play 81 games the past two years. In fact all three have played in every game since the start of the 2015 season. Kuhn has missed one game since 2014 while Parente has not played in two. Rader played defensive end in 2014.

Wells Shows Moxie
    Senior QB Hunter Wells showed moxie in helping lead YSU to late wins in the playoffs.
    On the final drive at Eastern Washington he was 3-for-4 for 26 yards with his lone incompletion a throw away on 1st-and-10 at the EWU 21. Wells also used his legs to contribute on the last drive running for nine yards on 3rd-and-6 at the Eastern 30 with a minute left in the game.
    On the last three drives of the game he was  7-of-9 for 81 yards and two touchdowns. He had another first-down rush, picking up six yards on a 3rd-and-3 at the EWU 15.
    After the first quarter against Wofford, Wells completed 11 of his final 16 passes for 143 yards and three scores.
    In the second overtime, he was 3-of-3 for 19 yards, including consecutive eight-yard completions after YSU faced a 2nd-and-12 from its 27-yard line.
    In the title game vs. James Madison he was 28-of-47 for 271 yards and two scores.

Schuler Starts Strong
    Sophomore P Mark Schuler, a second-team All-MVFC honoree last year, led all freshman FCS punters and ranked 14th overall averaging 42.5 yards per kick. He has 16 punts of 50 yards or longer and has placed 28 inside the 20-yard line. His average ranked second for a season in school history behind Nick Liste, who averaged 44.2 yards in 2013.
    Schuler had a career-long boot of 74 yards against Samford. He also had a 64-yard punt vs. James Madison, a 62-yard punt (Indiana State) and a 61-yarder (Southern Illinois).

Numbers of Note
• Turnover Margin: Since 1996, the Penguins are 130-33 when they win or tie in the turnover margin. When committing more turnovers, YSU is just 25-64.
Since 1990 YSU is:
• 157-19-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points in a game.
• 132-16 when rushing for 200-plus yards.
• 154-25 when scoring 28-or-more points.
• 83-9-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in a game.
• 183-15 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 108 straight games.