The No. 5 Youngstown State football team turned the ball over five times and committed eight penalties, including a costly one on its final drive, in a 31-23 loss to No. 14 Northern Iowa on Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium.
The Penguins never led in the contest and dropped to 6-2 overall and 3-1 in the Gateway despite a 172-yard and three-touchdown effort from senior tailback Marcus Mason. The loss was also the first at Stambaugh Stadium since a 22-20 setback to the Panthers on Oct. 16, 2004 snapping an 11-game winning streak.
UNI quarterback Eric Sanders threw for 291 yards and had three touchdowns -- all to wide receiver Johnny Gray. Gray finished with 160 yards on seven catches to compliment 88 return yards and 10 rushing yards. Darian Williams rushed for 106 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown late in the fourth quarter that pushed the UNI (5-2 and 3-0) lead to eight.
But the big story of the game was the Panther secondary that picked off four Tom Zetts passes, two of which came in the fourth quarter in UNI territory. YSU's Jason Perry also muffed a punt late in the fourth at the Guin 16-yard line, which resulted in Williams' score.
YSU's defense kept the Penguins in the game by forcing three turnovers of their own, including two in the fourth quarter. With the score 24-17, Codera Jackson intercepted Sanders and returned it 43 yards to the UNI 14 with 13:44 remaining. That set up Mason's third touchdown five carries later from one yard out. The snap was low on the point-after attempt and Brian Palmer's desperation kick was blocked to keep the Penguins down by one.
After each team turned the ball over on its ensuing possession, the Youngstown State defense stopped the Panthers on third-and-five with just over five-minutes remaining to force a punt. Adam Kos punted the ball 37 yards to the YSU 16 to Perry, who couldn't hang on and UNI's Dave Schratz recovered. Two plays later, Williams broke 16 yards into the end zone to put the Panthers up 31-23 with 4:08 left.
Zetts and Mason gave the Penguins life on their last drive, but the miscues continued. After a dropped pass, an illegible lineman downfield penalty negated a 23-yard touchdown pass to Louis Irizarry. Following another drop, Zetts was picked off by Dre Dokes at the 7 to all but end the contest.
UNI ran out the clock to seal the victory.
YSU must regroup quickly because the Penguins travel to third-ranked Illinois State next Saturday. Kickoff for the televised Gateway game is set for 2:30 p.m.