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Champaign, Illinois – The Youngstown State defense turned in a gutsy performance and sophomore tailback Martin Ruiz rushed for 116 yards on 32 carries, but the Penguins dropped a 28-17 decision to Illinois on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The Penguins' (0-1) defense allowed just 78 yards rushing and the offense won the time of possession, 36:09 to 23:51, but the Fighting Illini scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns after the Guins went in front 17-14 to pull out the victory.
YSU outgained Illinois, 372-363, had more first downs, 18-14, and rushed for 195 yards, which was 117 more than the Illini.
YSU junior quarterback Dante Nania threw for 177 yards on 11-of-24 passing and also rushed for 46 yards on 12 carries in his first career start. Nania long passes of 51 and 64 in the contest, the second of which help setup the Guins' lone touchdown of the game.
Defensively, Jameel Smith led the team with eight tackles while Dubem Nwadiogbu posted six tackles and forced a fumble.
Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt completed 24-of-38 passes for 285 yards and four touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter.
The momenetum swung in Illinois' favor late in in the third. With the Penguins leading 9-7, a YSU punt by Joey Cejudo was defected off the back of Jacob Wood and the Illini started their drive at YSU 35. The result was a touchdown pass from Lunt to Mike Dudek from eight yards out to give the Illini a 14-9 lead with 13:58 left in the game.
The Penguins, though, responded with their own quick strike. On second-and-16 after a sack, Nania hit Andrew Williams on a 61-yard pass to the Illinois five-yard line that set up a two-yard plunge by Ruiz for a touchdown. Nania's two-point conversion put the Penguins up 17-14 with 10:57 left.
Illinois, however, answered with a 79-yard drive to take a 21-17 lead with 8:50 left in the game when Lunt hit Ferguson from 15 yards. It was Lunt's third touchdown pass of the game.
The Fighting Illini extended its lead to 28-17 when Lunt threw his fourth score of the game when he hit Martize Barr on a 29-yard touchdown pass with 2:33 left in the contest.
The Penguins regained the lead, 9-7, midway through the third quarter when 31 yard scamper by Ruiz set up Cejudo's third field goal, a 36-yarder, with 9:18 left in the quarter.
In the first half, the Penguins' defense was impressive in the first quarter forcing three Illinois punts on three possessions Youngstown State limited the Illini to just 24 yards on 10 plays in the first stanza. The Penguins offense controlled the time of possession, 12:05 to 2:55, and outgained Illinois, 58-24.
After the Penguins forced a third Illinois punt, Nania led the Penguins on a 10-play, 33-yard scoring drive capped by 33-yard field goal by Joey Cejudo as the first quarter expired.
The Penguins were able to capitalize on a roughing the passer penalty by Illinois on third-and-15, which kept the drive going.
Illinois answered with a 67-yard kickoff return led to an eight-yard touchdown pass from Wes Lunt to Jon Davis that gave the Illini a 7-3 with 13:15 left in the second quarter.
After the teams exchange two punts, the Penguins put together their best drive of the half late in the second quarter to cut the lead to 7-6 after another Cejudo field goal, this time from 19 yards.
On third and 11 from the YSU 33, Nania hit Jody Webb on a swing pass and Webb sprinted down to the Illinois 13-yard-line. A sideline penalty pushed the ball back to the Illinois 18.
On third and seven from the Illini 15, Nania escaped trouble and found Webb in the front corner of the endzone for an apparent Penguins touchdown. An ineligible man down field penalty negated the score and the Penguins settled for Cejudo's second field goal of the game.
The Penguins dominated the first-half time of possession, 21:12-8:48, but the Illini outgained YSU, 107-84.
The Penguins host Duquesne in the home opener Saturday, Sept. 6, at 4 p.m. at Stambaugh Stadium.