Penguins Open MVFC Play With Key Contest at Western Illinois

Shereif Bynum
Shereif Bynum

    The Youngstown State football team visits Western Illinois on Saturday in the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener for both teams. Kickoff at Hanson Field is set for 4:04 p.m. Eastern time/3:04 p.m. Central time. The game is available on ESPN3, WKBN 570 AM and iHeartRadio.
    YSU (1-2) picked up its first win of the season on Sept. 15 when it defeated Valparaiso 42-7 at Stambaugh Stadium. The Penguins fell behind by a touchdown before scoring the final 42 points of the contest.
    Against the Crusaders, TB Tevin McCaster rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns while QB Montgomery VanGorder completed 13-of-21 passes for 202 yards and three touchdowns. It was the second time this year that VanGorder threw for three scores in a game. He connected with Darius Shackelford, Natavious Payne and Kendric Mallory for touchdowns against Valpo. It was the first YSU receiving touchdowns for Shackelford and Payne. Also in the contest, McCaster eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark in his Penguins career.
    WIU (1-2) earned a thrilling come-from-behind win defeating Montana 31-27 on Sept. 15 at Hanson Field. The Leathernecks jumped out to 14-0 lead before the Grizzlies stormed back to lead 18-17 at halftime and 27-17 in the fourth quarter.
    With 5:38 left Steve McShane returned a punt 58 yards for a touchdown to swing the momentum. On Montana's first offensive snap following the touchdown, WIU forced a fumble to take over. The Leathernecks took a 31-27 lead with 2:39 remaining when McShane hauled in an 11-yard touchdown pass from Sean McGuire. An interception by Eric Carrera with 1:09 left sealed the victory.
    This is the 32nd all-time meeting between the programs in a series that dates back to 1969. The Penguins lead the series by a 19-12 mark thanks to a good run since 2004. YSU has won 10 of the past 12 meetings in that span, including a 23-21 win at Hanson Field in 2015. The Guins have won five of the past six contests played in Macomb.
    In MVFC openers, the Penguins own a nine-game winning streak dating back to the 2009 campaign. All-time in MVFC openers, YSU is 18-3.



Quick Notes
• Through three games Montgomery VanGorder has thrown seven touchdown passes. He joins Kurt Hess (2011) as the only two players to have seven TD passes in school history through three games. Hess ended the 2011 campaign with a school record 26 touchdown passes.
• Through three games Tevin McCaster has rushed for 379 yards. That's the most through three games by a YSU tailback since P.J. Mays had 463 yards in 2001.
• So far this year, five Penguins have caught touchdown passes and for four of those it was their first career touchdown catch. WR Natavious Payne and TE Miles Joiner went one better, their first career catch went for a touchdown.  The other two who have hauled in their first TD catches are Kendric Mallory and Darius Shackleford.
• In the past eight games (five in 2017 and three this year), YSU has had four different starting quarterbacks - Montgomery VanGorder (3), Ricky Davis (3), Nathan Mays (1) and Hunter Wells (1).
• Six players have started each of the last 14 games - TB Tevin McCaster, C Vitas Hrynkiewicz, OG Gavin Wiggins, LB Armand Dellovade, DE Johnson Louigene and CB Bryce Gibson.
• PK Zak Kennedy has made his last 62 PATs entering the game vs. Western Illinois. His last miss came in the second quarter of YSU's playoff win over Wofford in 2016.
• Against Valparaiso, LB Armand Dellovade had the second interception of his career. YSU is 2-0 when he intercepts a pass (2017 vs. South Dakota State).
• Last year, Dellovade, Hrynkiewicz and Wiggins were named second-team All-MVFC while long snapper Steven Wethli was an honorable-mention selection.

Last Meeting: YSU 23, WIU 21
    The Penguins were solid in all three facets to hold on for the 23-21 victory over Western Illinois on Oct. 31, 2015, at Hanson Field.
    YSU held the Leathernecks to just 260 yards of total offense and Zak Kennedy made three field goals in the two-point victory.
    YSU took a 7-0 lead when Ricky Davis threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Andre Stubbs in the first quarter. After WIU tied the game, Kennedy booted a 46-yard field goal as the Guins went in front 10-7 after the first quarter.
    WIU went in front 14-10 on a Nikko Watson scoring run, but the Guins scored the final 10 points of the half on a nine-yard run by Jody Webb and a 40-yard field goal by Kennedy.
    The Leathernecks went ahead 21-20 on another score by Watson before YSU regained the lead on a 30-yard field goal by Kennedy with 2:07 left in the third. The Penguins made the lead stand up thanks to a pair of fourth-down stops and a clock-milking 6:29, 12-play drive that featured three third-down conversions in the fourth.

Last Game: YSU 42, Valpo 7
    YSU picked up its first win of the season on Sept. 15 when it defeated Valparaiso 42-7 at Stambaugh Stadium. The Penguins fell behind by a touchdown before scoring the final 42 points of the contest.
    Against the Crusaders, TB Tevin McCaster rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns while QB Montgomery VanGorder completed 13-of-21 passes for 202 yards and three touchdowns. It was the second time this year that VanGorder threw for three scores in a game. He connected with Darius Shackelford, Natavious Payne and Kendric Mallory for touchdowns against Valpo. It was the first YSU receiving touchdowns for Shackelford and Payne. Also in the contest, McCaster eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark in his Penguins career.

MVFC Games in September
    This is the 19th conference game the Penguins have played in the month of September since joining the league in 1997. YSU is 14-4 in September MVFC conference tilts and has won seven of its last eight. Impressively, YSU is 10-0 at home in September in MVFC games.

MVFC Opener Success
    The Guins are 18-3 in Missouri Valley Football Conference openers since joining the league in 1997. YSU has won nine consecutive conference openers since a 40-7 loss at South Dakota State in 2008.
    Of the 21 league openers, the Guins are a perfect 11-0 at home while going 7-3 on the road. In first road games of the MVFC slate, the Guins are 11-10 all-time.
    In MVFC openers YSU is 5-0 against Missouri State, 3-0 vs. Indiana State, 2-0 against Western Illinois, 2-0 against Illinois State, 2-0 against Southern Illinois, 2-0 vs. South Dakota, 1-0 against UNI, 1-1 vs. South Dakota State and 0-2 vs. Western Kentucky.

VanGorder Off to Hot Start
    QB Montgomery VanGorder is off to a hot start in his first year with the Penguins. Through three games he has completed 42-of-72 passes for 593 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception.
    Last year, the most touchdown passes by any YSU quarterback was five and four of those came in one game. He had three touchdown passes against Valparaiso and opened the year with three vs. Butler. It is the first time since Hunter Wells in 2015 that a YSU quarterback has had multiple three-TD passing games.

McCaster Eclipses 2,000 yards
    With his 141-yard rushing performance against Valparaiso, TB Tevin McCaster has eclipsed 2,000 yards rushing in his YSU career. McCaster has 2,114 yards and 27 rushing touchdowns in his career.
    He ranks 12th in school history for most rushing touchdowns and is 18th in career rushing yardage. He moved up to 20th in all-time attempts.

Dellovade Nearing Top 20
    Senior LB Armand Dellovade ranks 21st in school history in career tackles. Dellovade has 258 stops in his YSU career, including 159 solo stops. He had his second career interception in the win against Valparaiso. He also had a pick against South Dakota State in 2017. He is nine tackles shy of moving into the top 20 and just 18 from moving into the top 15 at YSU.

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.
    This year he has 379 yards on 68 carries scored three touchdowns.
    In his first year as starter in 2017, McCaster rushed for 1,066 yards on 221 carries and scored 13 touchdowns. In conference play he rushed for 803 yards on 171 attempts and scored 10 touchdowns.

Newcomers Step Up at WR
    With little experience returning in terms of pass catchers the Penguins were looking for someone to step up and lead the way. So far through three games, its been a group effort by everyone.
    Newcomer Zach Farrar had a breakout performance against West Virginia and leads the team with 11 catches for 173 yards. At WVU, the sophomore caught six passes for 135 yards against the Mountaineers.
    Kendric Mallory and TE Miles Joiner are tied for the team lead in touchdown catches with two. Overall, Mallory has five catches for 89 yards this year. Samuel St. Surin, who had four career catches to start the year, has eight this season for 137 yards. Darius Shackelford had the best game of his YSU career against Valparaiso hauling in three passes for 69 yards and a touchdown. Shackelford had zero career catches before Sept. 15. True freshman Natavious Payne caught two passes for 34 yards, including a 27-yard TD vs. Valparaiso.

TE See New Faces As Well
    Entering the season, YSU's tight end group was low on experience with only Chris Durkin seeing limited time at the position in 2017.
    Early in the 2018 campaign, the position group has played well, led by redshirt freshman Miles Joiner, who has two touchdown catches.
    Joiner caught a three-yard touchdown pass against Butler and added a four-yard score at West Virginia.
    In the first three games, YSU has used Joiner, Josh Burgett, Charles Reeves, Kierre Hawkins and Durkin at the tight-end spot. True freshman Jake Benio has played on special teams. Hawkins missed the first two games because of an injury, but made his YSU debut against Valparaiso.
    Gone from a year ago are highly-experienced players Kevin Rader, Shane Kuhn and Anthony Parente.

Kennedy Nearing Top Three
    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.
    This season, Kennedy could move into second place as he trails Brian Palmer by one for third place and Mark Griffith by 13 for second.
    He has made 47 field goals in his career and 127 extra points in his four years with the program. He has made his last 62 PAT kicks dating back to December 2016.

Strong Down The Middle
    YSU's offensive line features experienced players in center Vitas Hrynkiewicz, guard Gavin Wiggins and guard Connor Sharp.
    The Penguins feature new tackles this year as they replace four-year starter Justin Spencer and last year's starter Cameron Fraser.
    Redshirt freshman left tackle Dan Becker has started the first three games while Kansas transfer right tackle Charles Baldwin started the first two at right tackle and junior college transfer Devon Robinson started against Valpo.
    Wiggins has started 34 straight games, Hrynkiewicz has started the past 30 while Sharp made his seventh career start against VU.

VanGorder Takes Reins
    QB Montgomery VanGorder has started the first three games for the Penguins. In the three contests he has completed 42-of-72 passes (58.3 percent) for 593 yards and seven touchdowns.
    Against Valpo, he was 13-of-21 for 202 yards and three touchdowns. At WVU, he had 11 completions for 157 yards and a touchdown in his first road start. He also had a season-best 12 rushing attempts. In the opener vs. Butler, he was 18-of-27 for 234 yards and had three touchdown passes.
    He has 68 yards rushing on 18 carries for the campaign.

Dellovade Always Plays Tough
    YSU senior LB Armand Dellovade has been a mainstay on the Penguins' defense throughout his career.
     In 41 career games played, Dellovade has  258 career tackles, 159 of which are solo stops. Impressively, Dellovade has made 39 starts in his 41 games played. The only non starts by Dellovade were his first career game at Pittsburgh 2015 and later in the season vs. Missouri State when the Penguins started a six defensive-back package on the contest's opening snap.
    He has started the 2018 campaign strong recording seven tackles against Butler and eight at West Virginia and vs. Valparaiso. He leads the team with 23 tackles, including 17 solos.
    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.

Defensive Player Updates
    Chrispin Lee: Has started the past two games after not starting previously in his career. At WVU, had a career-high 15 total tackles, including nine solos. He is second on the team with 20 total tackles.
    Wes Thompson: had a sack in the contest at WVU. It marked the second straight year that Thompson had a sack vs. an FBS opponent. He had a sack at Pittsburgh in 2017.
    Ma'lik Richmond: Has been credited with two sacks and helped force an interception with a pressure (WVU). He has had four tackles twice this year.
    Shereif Bynum: Has 12 total tackles this year after entering the season with four. He had five solos at WVU and had sacks against Valpo and Butler.
    Will Latham: Has started all three games at the nickel position. He has 13 total tackles, highlighted by eight at WVU. He also had his first career interception against the Mountaineers.

Spreading the Ball Around
    In the first three games of the year, the Penguins have had 12 different players catch passes.
    Leading the way is Zach Farrar, who has 11 catches for 173 yards, highlighted by  a six-catch effort at West Virginia. In the opener vs. Butler, Samuel St. Surin caught five passes for 85 yards to lead the way while Kendric Mallory had four for 78 yards. Against Valparaiso, Darius Shackelford had three catches for 69 yards and a touchdown while Natavious Payne had two for 34 yards and a score.
    Ryan Emans had two catches against Butler while Jake Cummings had two grabs at WVU. Miles Joiner has touchdown receptions in the first two games while running backs Christian Turner and Tevin McCaster each have multiple receptions. Zach Torbert had a single catch against Butler while Jermiah Braswell caught one vs. Valparaiso.

McCaster Moving Up Charts
    Senior TB Tevin McCaster has 2,114 yards rushing in his career to rank 18th in school history. He ranks 12th in school history with 27 rushing touchdowns and 20th with 425 carries.
    He 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.
    At South Dakota in 2017, McCaster scored a career-high four touchdowns. Against South Dakota State in 2017, McCaster had a career-high 35 rushes for a career-best 183 yards.
    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.

Plenty of Newcomers
    YSU has had plenty of new faces see action so far this season.
    A total of 30 players have made their Penguins debut in the first three contests while 13 players made their first career starts.
    The Guins who have made their first career starts are QB Montgomery VanGorder, OT Devon Robinson, OT Charles Baldwin, TE Miles Joiner, WR Darius Shackleford, WR Zach Farrar, WR Samuel St. Surin, SS Terray Bryant, FS Chrispin Lee, TE Josh Burgett, NB Will Latham, DE Shereif Bynum and DT Wes Thompson. Six true freshmen have played this year: WR Natavious Payne, DB Paul French, LB Griffin Hoak, DT DeMarko Craig, DT Dontae Cilenti and TE Jake Benio.

Preseason Accolades
    Five seniors on the team have earned their farir 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 squad, McCaster was a second-team preseason selection while Wiggins, Wethli and Dellovade were third team picks.

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 throughout his career. In his career he is averaging an impressive 41.7 yards per punt on 119 attempts.
    At WVU, Schuler had an outstanding game with an average of 43.2 yards per kick on six attempts. He had a long of 56 yards and placed two punts at the WVU one-yard line. He also placed three kicks inside the 20 vs. Valparaiso. This year he has placed five of his 14 kicks inside the 20-yard line.
    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.

Gibson Leads Secondary
    Sophomore CB Bryce Gibson has been looked upon to lead the new-look group following some drastic changes to the secondary because of injuries.
    Through three games, three of the top of four tacklers on the team are members of the secondary. Chrispin Lee has a secondary-high 20 total stops, Gibson has 14 tackles and Will Latham has13. Of their 47 combined tackles, 35 have been unassisted. Gibson leads the team with four pass breakups.
    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 in Jalyn Powell and Billy Nicoe Hurst along with sophomore Kyle Hegedus last year. Unfortunately, Hegedus tore his ACL in his right knee and is lost for the season leaving YSU without three starters from 2017. YSU's unit led the FCS in fewest passing yards allowed for the season in 2017.
    CB DJ Smalls, Gibson, Latham and FS Avery Larkin have started the first three games for the Penguins in the secondary. Lee has started the past two games after Terray Bryant started the season opener vs. Butler.

Numbers of Note
• Turnover Margin: Since 1996, the Penguins are 136-36 when they win or tie in the turnover margin. When committing more turnovers, YSU is just 26-67.
Since 1990 YSU is:
• 163-20-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points in a game.
• 139-17 when rushing for 200-plus yards.
• 160-26 when scoring 28-or-more points.
• 86-10-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in a game.
• 190-16 when leading entering the fourth.
• 88-3-2 when holding opponents to 10 points-or-less in a game.

Up Next:
    YSU returns home to start a key October stretch with a contest against Southern Illinois on Oct. 6. The Penguins play three of their four October games at Stambaugh Stadium.