Penguins Open Home Season With Contest Against Butler

Vitas Hrynkiewicz
Vitas Hrynkiewicz

    The Youngstown State football team opens the 2018 season against Butler on Saturday afternoon. Kickoff for the contest at Stambaugh Stadium is set for 2 p.m. The game is available on ESPN +, WKBN 570 AM and iHeartRadio.
    YSU is coming off a 6-5 campaign in 2017 and will be looking to start its 78th season on a high note when the Bulldogs visit Youngstown for the first time since 2014.
    The Penguins posted three wins in their final three contests to end last year's campaign strong. Key returning players from last year's squad are TB Tevin McCaster, C Vitas Hrynkiewicz, RG Gavin Wiggins, LB Armand Dellovade, DT Savon Smith, DE Johnson Louigene and CB Bryce Gibson. The special teams feature returning players PK Zak Kennedy, P Mark Schuler and LS Steven Wethli.
    Butler was 6-5 last season while posting a 4-4 record in the Pioneer Football League. Last year BU won four of its final five games dropping close contests to Dayton and Valparaiso.
    YSU has won the previous two meetings winning 44-13 in 2014 and 31-7 in 2010. In 2014, YSU scored 41 of the contest's last 44 points as freshman QB Hunter Wells and senior WR Jelani Berassa dazzled in a 44-13 win over Butler at Stambaugh Stadium in 2014.
    The Penguins trailed 10-3 at the end of the first quarter but scored 28 second-quarter points to seize control of the game. In the second half, YSU outscored the Bulldogs 13-0 and allowed just 106 total offensive yards.
    In 2010, YSU picked up a 31-7 victory over the Bulldogs at Stambaugh Stadium. The Penguins broke open a 17-7 game late in the third quarter when Dominique Barnes returned a punt 86 yards for a touchdown.
    YSU took a 7-0 lead when Jordan Thompson scored his first career touchdown in the opening quarter. In the second, Adaris Bellamy's first career score from five yards out increased the advantage to 14-0.
    Butler cut the deficit in half, but the Guins scored the final 17 points of the game. Stephen Blose kicked a 29-yard field goal just before halftime, Barnes scored on his punt return and Bellamy added a 25-yard score in the fourth quarter.


Quick Notes
• The Penguins start their 78th season of football against Butler. It is the second time in school history YSU plays its home opener against the Bulldogs. The Guins beat BU 31-7 in the 2010 home opener.
• YSU has been tough to beat in its home opener the past several years. The Guins have won every home opener since 1996. Only two games have been decided by a touchdown or less.
• The Penguins return six players from last year who started all 11 games - TB Tevin McCaster, C Vitas Hrynkiewicz, OG Gavin Wiggins, LB Armand Dellovade, DE Johnson Louigene and CB Bryce Gibson.
• Dellovade has a team-best 29 consecutive starts. Wiggins and Hrynkiewicz have been in the starting lineup for the past 27 games.
• McCaster was a first-team All-MVFC honoree last season. He rushed for a career-best 1,066 yards on 221 carries and scored 13 touchdowns.
• McCaster scored a touchdown in nine of 11 games last season.
• Dellovade, Hrykniewicz and Wiggins were named second-team All-MVFC while long snapper Steven Wethli was an honorable-mention selection.
• PK Zak Kennedy made all 43 of his PAT kicks last season. It was the first time since 2009 that a YSU kicker made all their PATs in the same season. Kennedy has made his last 51 PATs entering the 2018 campaign. His last miss came in the second quarter of YSU's playoff win over Wofford.
Mark Schuler has had 105 punts in his two years with the program.
• QB Nathan Mays returns after throwing four touchdown passes and running for four a year ago.

Last Meeting: YSU 44, Butler 13
    YSU scored 41 of the contest's last 44 points as freshman QB Hunter Wells and senior WR Jelani Berassa dazzled in a 44-13 win over Butler at Stambaugh Stadium in 2014.
    The Penguins trailed 10-3 at the end of the first quarter but scored 28 second-quarter points to seize control of the game. In the second half, YSU outscored the Bulldogs 13-0 and allowed just 106 total offensive yards.
    In his first career start, Wells threw four touchdown passes while completing 16-of-22 attempts for 297 yards. His favorite target was Berassa, who had three touchdowns, the most by a YSU wide receiver since 1979. He finished the contest with six receptions for a career-high 167 yards.
    TB Martin Ruiz rushed for 108 yards and a score while PK Joey Cejudo converted all three of his field-goal attempts against Butler. TE Nate Adams added a fourth-quarter score.

September Home Win Streak
    The Penguins have won 20 straight home games in the month of September dating back to the start of the 2009 season.
    Since losing to Florida International in overtime on Sept. 11, 2004, YSU is 30-1 in September at Stambaugh Stadium. The lone loss was a final-play defeat to Liberty in 2008 (31-28). The Penguins own MVFC victories over UNI (2012), Illinois State (2011), Southern Illinois (2010) and Missouri State (2007) during that stretch.

Home Opener Win Streak
    The Penguins have won 23 straight home openers dating back to the 1995 campaign when it lost to Stephen F. Austin. In the 23 games since then, YSU has outscored its opponents by an impressive 853-231 margin.
    Since then the Penguins have posted four shutouts, including 2017 vs. RMU, while the most points allowed was 23 by Duquesne in 2014. On offense, the Guins have scored at least 21 points in each of those games and gone over 30 on 17 occasions, including a high of 77 versus Valparaiso in 2011.

Non-Conference Home Success
      YSU has won 33 of its last 34 non-conference home games since September 2004. The lone loss was a final-play 31-28 setback to Liberty in 2008.
    Since falling to the Flames on Sept. 27, 2008, the Penguins have won 20 straight at home against non-conference foes. All 20 wins have come against FCS programs, including four last year and two playoff victories.

Superb In Home Openers
    YSU is 53-22-2 all-time in home openers dating back to the program's beginning in 1938.
    Since moving to Stambaugh Stadium in 1982, YSU is 29-6-1 in the first home game of the season. Since 1989, YSU is an impressive 24-1-1 in home openers.

All-Time Home Opener Notes
Most Points: 77 vs. Valparaiso, 2011
Fewest Points: 0 vs. Stephen F. Austin, 1995 (3 times)
Opp. Most Points: 43 by Southern Illinois, 1969
Opp. Fewest Points: 0 by Robert Morris, 2017 (11 times)
Margin of Victory: 64 | 77-13 vs. Valparaiso, 2011

McCaster Up For Payton
    Tevin McCaster is one of 25 FCS offensive standouts who have been named to the Walter Payton Award Watch List by STATS FCS.
    McCaster is one of four Missouri Valley Football Conference representatives on the Watch List. Other MVFC standouts on the list include North Dakota State running back Bruce Anderson, NDSU quarterback Easton Stick and South Dakota State quarterback Taryn Christion.
    In his first year as starter, McCaster rushed for 1,066 yards on 221 carries and scored 13 touchdowns. He was named first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference for his efforts.

Preseason All-MVFC Accolades
    The veterans on the team have earned their fare share of preseason hype being recognized as All-Missouri Valley Football Conference or All-American.
    LB Armand Dellovade, TB Tevin McCaster, C Vitas Hrynkiewicz, OG Gavin Wiggins and LS Steven Wethli have been named to the Missouri Valley Football Conference's preseason all-league first team. Sophomore CB Bryce Gibson is a second-team preseason all-league pick.
    On the STATS FCS Preseason All-America Team, four Penguins were listed.
    McCaster was a second-team preseason selection while Wiggins, Wethli and Dellovade were third team picks.

Newcomers at WR
    The Penguins have a talented but untested wide receiving corps as the campaign gets underway.
    Returning from last year's squad are Jermiah Braswell, Samuel St. Surin, Darius Shackleford, Ryan Emans, Jacob Coates and Zack Torbert, along with redshirts Colby Cooper, Thomas Joffray and Jake Cummings. Newcomers to the program are junior college transfers Zach Farrar, and Kendric Mallory while freshman Natavious Payne, Jared Fabry, Michael Diaz and Markel Toney have been added to the roster.
    Of the group, only St. Surin and Braswell have touchdown receptions. Additionally,  Braswell has the lone start. Torbert is the only other wide receiver with a reception.

TE See New Faces As Well
    YSU lost three senior tight ends that were key parts of the program throughout their careers so look for a revamped position in 2018.
    Gone from a year ago are Kevin Rader, Shane Kuhn and Anthony Parente while the only returnee with playing experience is Chris Durkin.
    YSU added transfers Charles Reeves (Pittsburgh) and Kierre Hawkins (Ohio State) and it returns redshirts Miles Joiner and Josh Burgett and true freshman Josh Benio.

Strong Down The Middle
    YSU's offensive line features experienced players in center Vitas Hrynkiewicz, guard Gavin Wiggins and guard Connor Sharp.
    The Penguins will feature new tackles this year as they replace four-year starter Justin Spencer and last year's starter Cameron Fraser.
    Redshirt freshman Dan Becker should get the call at the left tackle spot while at right tackle transfer Charles Baldwin and junior college transfer Devon Robinson have been battling for the starting spot.

Graduate Transfers
    YSU has added a pair of graduate transfers who will be looking to cap off their collegiate careers on high notes.
    In January, YSU added quarterback Montgomery VanGorder from Notre Dame while tackle Charles Baldwin joined the program after spending his undergrad at Kansas.
    VanGorder was primarily a holder on placement kicks in four seasons at Notre Dame while serving as a reserve quarterback.
    Baldwin transfered to Kansas after spending time at Alabama and ASA College.

Tailbacks Return
    The names fans grew to know last year at tailback were Tevin McCaster and Christian Turner. The duo had a standout campaign combining for 1,506 yards and 14 touchdowns. Both headline a talented group in 2018.
    Joe Alessi has shown flashes during his YSU career that he can be a key contributor, and Devon McNutt and London Pearson are both in their third year year with the program. Last year, Braxton Chapman redshirted and this fall the Guins have added Dra Rushton and Randy Smith Jr.

Secondary Was Tough
    YSU's secondary was a strong part of the program in 2017.
    YSU led the FCS allowing just 143.7 passing yards per game. It was the second time in three years the Penguins ranked No. 1 in the country in fewest passing yards allowed.
    Only twice did YSU allow more than 160 yards through the air, and it held the opposition to under 115 on five occasions.
    The Penguins surrendered just one touchdown pass in the final five games of the year.
    YSU allowed four completions of longer than 37 yards. All four came in two games.

McCaster Making Moves
    Senior TB Tevin McCaster scored a touchdown in nine games last year to lead the Penguins' offense. The only two contests McCaster didn't score in were against UNI and Illinois State. In 2016 he had touchdowns in nine of the Guins' 16 games. In five of the seven games he didn't score in 2016, he had four or fewer carries.
    In 2016 he had 129 totes in the 16 contests (8 per game) and followed that with a 229-carry effort (20.8) in 11 games in 2017. Eight times he had more than 19 carries a year ago.
    At South Dakota, McCaster scored a career-high four touchdowns. Against South Dakota State, McCaster had a career-high 35 rushes for a career-best 183 yards.

Gibson To Lead Secondary
    With injuries and graduation changing the secondary, sophomore CB Bryce Gibson will be looked upon to lead the new-look group.
    Last year, Gibson started all 11 games as a true freshman. He finished with 35 total tackles, 24 of which were solo stops. The Guins started a pair of seniors last year in senior Jalyn Powell and Billy Nicoe Hurst along with sophomore Kyle Hegedus. Unfortunately Hegedus tore his ACL in his right knee and is lost for the season.
    DJ Smalls and Avery Larkin return after both starting at the nickel spot last year. Larkin started six games while Smalls started the final two of the season.

Louigene, Smith Anchor Line
    On the defensive front, seniors DE Johnson Louigene and DT Savon Smith are the leaders. Louigene started all 11 games last year while Smith started nine.
    Louigene had 39 stops last year while Smith finished with 27. In their careers, Smith has started 21 games while Louigene has 12.
    Senior DT Lamont Ragland has started four games for the Guins in his career.

Kennedy In Top Four
    Senior PK Zak Kennedy ranks fourth in school history in points by a placekicker. Last season, Kennedy had 67 points. As a sophomore he scored 96 points, and as a freshman he had 91.
    Entering his final season, Kennedy should move into second place as he trails Brian Palmer by 16 and Mark Griffith by 28.
    He has made 46 field goals in his career and 116 extra points in his three years with the program.

Dellovade Always Plays Tough
    YSU senior LB Armand Dellovade has been a mainstay on the Penguins' defense throughout his career.
     In 38 career games played, Dellovade has  235 career tackles, 142 of which are solo stops. Impressively, Dellovade has made 36 starts entering his senior season.
    Last season, he was second on the team with 76 total stops, 40 of which were solos. He also had three sacks.
    As a sophomore he had 105 tackles in 16 games and as a true freshman in 2015, he was credited with 54 total tackles.

Mays Showed Grit in 2017
    Junior QB Nathan Mays started a team-best five games last season and entered two others on the game's first series following an injury to starter Hunter Wells.
    For the year, he completed 75-of-113 passes for 905 yards and four touchdowns. On the ground, he rushed for 317 yards on 77 carries and added four scores.
    In 2017, Mays started against Central Connecticut, South Dakota, North Dakota State, UNI and Illinois State.
    He was called upon to replace injured starter Hunter Wells on the opening series twice and led the Guins to wins over Robert Morris and South Dakota State.

Schuler Has Been Solid
    Junior punter Mark Schuler has been a key weapon for the Penguins through his two seasons. In his career he is averaging 42.4 yards per punt on 105 boots.
    As a sophomore, he played in nine games – did not punt against Robert Morris and Central Connecticut – and had 41 punts for an average of 41.6 yards per boot.
    He placed 14 kicks inside the opponents' 20-yard line and had five kicks of more than 50 yards on the campaign. In MVFC games, had 38 punts for an average of 41.8 yards a kick.
    As a freshman, he was a second-team All-MVFC selection, averaging 42.5 yards per punt on 64 kicks while playing in all 16 games. He boomed 16 punts of more than 50 yards, including a career-long kick of 74 yards against Samford in the playoffs.
Working Overtime
    Twice last season the Penguins played an overtime game. YSU battled North Dakota State to OT after the contest was tied at 24 at the end of regulation. The Penguins, however, suffered a 27-24 setback to the Bison.
    YSU opened the season with an overtime contest at Pittsburgh. The Penguins came up short in that contest as the Panthers scored a TD and the defense held YSU in a 28-21 contest.
    YSU is now 8-7 all-time in overtime games and has played six since November 2014 after last playing an overtime game in September 2004. At home, the Penguins are 5-3 with their last win coming against Wofford in 2016.

March of the Penguins
    Last season the Penguins had 36 drives of at least eight-or-more plays.
    In the 2017 season finale, the Guins had three drives of longer than eight plays, two of which were scores on a rainy and cold afternoon.
    YSU had four drives of nine plays or more at Southern Illinois but was only able to score once. At Indiana State, YSU had just one long drive despite scoring nine touchdowns.
    At UNI, YSU had three eight-play drives, including a 14-play sequence that ended with a missed field goal.
    YSU had four scoring drives vs. NDSU, and all four were more than eight plays. The Penguins tied the game up with 1:23 remaining with a nine-play, 90-yard drive that took 5:01.
    At South Dakota, YSU had four drives for eight plays, and three of those ended in touchdowns. Against South Dakota State, YSU had six drives of nine plays or longer.
    Against SDSU, the Guins' offense had six drives that lasted nine or more plays. YSU had drives of nine (twice), 14, 15 (twice) and 16 against the Jackrabbits. YSU had a school record 45:14 time of possession in the contest.

New Coordinators in 2018
    The Penguins will have new coordinators run the offense and defense in 2018.
    Brian Crist, who coached the YSU wide receivers from 2015-17, takes over the offensive play-calling duties this year. On defense, Richard McNutt and Donald D'Alesio will be the co-coordinators during the campaign. McNutt has coached the secondary since 2015 while D'Alesio has coached the defensive line since 2016.
    Under Head Coach Bo Pelini, Shane Montgomery was YSU's offensive coordinator from 2015-17 while Carl Pelini was the Penguins' defensive coordinator from 2015-17. Both moved on to FBS programs following last season.

McCaster Carries the Load
    Senior TB Tevin McCaster had at least 19 carries in eight contests a year ago as he saw an increased workload.
    Last year, he has rushed for 1,066 yards on 221 carries and had 13 touchdowns. McCaster had four 100-yard efforts last year - 183 vs. South Dakota State, 181 vs. Missouri State, 158 at Southern Illinois and 101 vs. Central Connecticut. Against the Jackrabbits he had a career-high 35 carries.
    He had touchdowns in nine games last season. In his career, YSU is 14-4 when he scores a touchdown, including an 8-1 record in 2016.
    In 2016, McCaster was second on the team in touchdowns with 11 while rushing for 652 yards on 129 carries. His best performance was at EWU, where he had 154 yards on 29 carries and scored three touchdowns.
    He was the only running back to play in all 16 games in 2016.

Numbers of Note
• Turnover Margin: Since 1996, the Penguins are 135-35 when they win or tie in the turnover margin. When committing more turnovers, YSU is just 26-66.
Since 1990 YSU is:
• 162-20-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points in a game.
• 138-16 when rushing for 200-plus yards.
• 159-26 when scoring 28-or-more points.
• 85-9-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in a game.
• 189-15 when leading entering the fourth.
• 87-3-2 when holding opponents to 10 points-or-less in a game.

Up Next:
    The Penguins go on the road for the first time this season when they visit West Virginia. Kickoff for the contest at Milan Pushkar Stadium is set for 6 p.m.
    YSU returns home to take on Valparaiso on Saturday, Sept. 15. Kickoff for the contest at Stambaugh Stadium is set for 2 p.m.