Kennedy's Late Field Goal Lifts Penguins Past Southern Illinois, 17-14

Zak Kennedy (Photo by Ron Stevens)
Zak Kennedy (Photo by Ron Stevens)

Senior placekicker Zak Kennedy converted a 34-yard field goal with 26 seconds left in the game to give the Youngstown State football team a 17-14 victory over Southern Illinois on homecoming on Saturday evening from Stambaugh Stadium. 

YSU improves to 2-3 overall and 1-1 in the Missouri Valley Football Confernce while Southern Illinois drops to 1-4 and 0-2 in the league. 

The Penguins scored the final 11 points after trailing 14-6 late in the fourth quarter. Senior Tevin McCaster plunged in from one-yard out to cut the deficit 14-12 and Montgomery VanGorder connected with Zach Farrar on the two-point conversion to tie the game with 4:36 left in the contest.

Ma'lik Richmond's sack on third down forced the Salukis to punt on their next possesssion and YSU took over at the SIU 39 setting up the drive for Kennedy's game winner. McCaster had five straight carries to start the possession moving the Guins to the SIU 13-yard line. On the next two snaps, VanGorder was stopped for a pair of two-yard losses, but he was able to center the ball in the middle of the field setting up the game-winning boot.

For the game, VanGorder finished 15-of-36 for 111 yards and two interceptions. He also ran the ball 12 times for 48 yards. McCaster rushed the ball 28 times for 116 yards and a score. This was McCaster's third 100-yard rushing game of the season. With a touchdown in the fourth quarter, McCaster now has 30 rushing touchdowns for his career, making him the 10th player in school history to reach that mark. Kennedy was 3 of 4 kicking on the evening, which include field goals from 24 yards, 32 yards and the game-winning 34 yarder. 

The defense was led by senior defensive back Chrispin Lee and junior linebacker Christiaan Randall-Posey who each recorded 11 tackles for the game. Junior defensive end Shereif Bynum registered a team high 1.5 sacks. 

The Penguins wasted no time getting points on the board as Kennedy capped off their opening drive with a 32-yard field goal, with 11:03 left in the first quarter. The drive was highlighted by a VanGorder 19-yard scramble, the longest of his career. On the Penguins second possession, VanGorder was intercepted by a Southern Illinois defender, giving the Salukis the ball at the YSU 41-yard line. The YSU defense forced a punt and was stout the whole first quarter, allowing the Salukis to only gain 37 yards and forcing them to four punts.  

Southern Illinois took the lead early in the second quarter when D.J. Davis punched in a touchdown from five yards out to give the Salukis a 7-3 lead with 12:15 left in the second quarter. After a Southern Illinois muffed punt, the Penguins were able to cut the Salukis' lead to one. Kennedy finished a 10-play, 19-yard drive with a 24-yard field goal to make the score 7-6 in favor of Southern Illinois with 5:02 left in the second quarter. On the next possession for Southern Illinois, Nico Gualdoni missed a 44-yard field goal to keep the score at 7-6 headed into the half.

In the first half, YSU had 148 yards of total offense while SIU had 146 yards. McCaster lead the ground game for the Penguins with 67 yards on 13 carries. Through the air, VanGorder was 7 of 22 for 67 yards with two interceptions. 

After receiving the second half kickoff, the Penguins moved the ball down the field before stalling out at the at the SIU 25. With a chance to regain the lead, Kennedy missed a 42-yard field goal wide left with 7:48 left in the third quarter. 

To open the fourth quarter, Southern Illinois extended its lead to 14-6 with 10:57 remaining in the game. QB Matt DeSomer finished an 18-play, 75-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run. 

YSU is back on the road next weekend when they travel to South Dakota State to take on the Jack Rabbits at 3 p.m. from Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.