YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO —
Indiana State’s football team had multiple chances to put Youngstown State behind the 8-ball on Saturday.
The Sycamores didn’t take those chances and paid a heavy price for it.
A first-half ISU touchdown was wiped out due to a penalty and another would-be touchdown opportunity in the second half was erased due to dropped balls in the end zone.
ISU couldn’t hold back YSU after that. The Penguins scored 21 unanswered points in the second half and pulled away for a 27-6 victory at Stambaugh Stadium.
ISU’s loss likely dealt a fatal blow to the Sycamores’ Football Championship Subdivision playoff hopes. ISU is 7-4, its best record since 1995, but only six of the victories were against Division I competition. Seven Division I wins are strongly encouraged by the NCAA for at-large consideration in the 20-team field.
“Our kids battled and I’m proud of them. It’s very disappointing to end it like that. I thought we were good enough to go on to the next level and play, but it didn’t happen today,” ISU coach Trent Miles said.
Those missed chances haunted a grim postgame Sycamore locker room. For the third season in a row, ISU lost its regular season finale with playoff hopes on the line.
“You have to take advantage of your opportunities and cash them in. If you score, the momentum is different. We have to find a way to get these kids over the hump so they can do that,” Miles said.
Time of possession favored YSU by 13 minutes. ISU’s defense was called upon to hold opponents to low point totals several times this season to secure victories.
The defensive-offensive imbalance was a pattern that was bound to bite the Sycamores and it did on Saturday.
“You keep relying on your defense over and over and over. Eventually, if you don’t control the ball and put some points on the board, [the loss] is what’s going to happen,” Miles said.
Injuries suffered on the defensive side didn’t help ISU’s cause. Starting safety Donovan Layne and cornerback Johnny Towalid left the game in the third quarter with injuries. Safety Kamerin Mitchell and cornerback Alex Stowers filled in capably.
ISU also played without running back Shakir Bell in the first quarter, who sat out due to an unspecified violation of team rules. Bell rushed for 54 yards on 18 carries.
“I broke some team rules. That might have been what it was that didn’t give my team a spark. I was very apologetic to the team, to the seniors and to Sycamore Nation. I have to make better decisions,” Bell said.
Overall, ISU had 282 yards of total offense. YSU had 394.
The first missed opportunity came for the Sycamores on their second drive of the second quarter. Down 3-0, the Sycamores got to the 3-yard line, and on 3rd-and-goal, with everyone, including Bell, split wide, Perish found tight end Mike Mardis over the middle for an apparent touchdown.
But tackle Paul Patrick was called for holding on the play and the touchdown was taken off the board. ISU had to settle for a Tanner Fritschle field goal to tie the game.
Down 6-3 at halftime, ISU took the opening kickoff and zoomed into scoring position. ISU needed just four plays to get to the YSU 22-yard line. Perish then found tight end Garrick Dikos open on first down in the end zone, but Dikos dropped the pass.
On third down, Dikos had his hands on the ball again in the end zone on a diving attempt at a Perish pass, but couldn’t secure it. ISU once again settled for a Fritschle field goal to tie the game.
ISU would never have a better chance to take the lead again.
“It’s the second game in a row we didn’t score a touchdown. This game was a reflection of our season as an offense,” Bell said. “It just comes down to us not making plays. It comes down to me personally not making plays. It’s a tough loss. We were supposed to go out there and do it for the seniors. We didn’t do enough.”
Bell threw an interception on a halfback option pass with 9:09 left in the third quarter. YSU’s offense, mostly frozen up until that point by ISU’s defense, thawed out deep in its own territory.
YSU engineered an 11-play, 97-yard drive. Towalid was hurt—his right leg was rolled into—on the penultimate play of the drive, a 16-yard pass that got YSU to the ISU 30.
On the next play, YSU quarterback Kurt Hess went the other direction. Cornerback Calvin Burnett had single-coverage on receiver Andrew Williams. Hess pump-faked and Williams was open on a double move. He hauled in a 30-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone to make it 13-6.
YSU (6-4, 4-4) took a two-score lead on its next drive as Jamaine Cook—who rushed for 124 yards—broke free for a 24-yard touchdown run to make it 20-6. The Penguins put the game away when Hess found Williams again for a 43-yard touchdown with 8:17 left.
ISU drove to the YSU goal line in response, but Perish was intercepted in the end zone.
“We put ourselves in bad situations and they took advantage of it. All the credit goes to Youngstown,” Miles said.
The FCS playoff field will be announced at 1:30 p.m. today.