YSU vs Akron Historic Battle

Penguins Fall to Sycamores

Youngstown State will be heading to InfoCision Stadium Summa Field to take on their old rivals, the Akron Zips during week one of the 2020 college football season. The YSU and Akron rivalry has a long history that deserves a deeper examination.

YSU and Akron Rivalry Background

There is history between these two teams going all the way back to their first meeting on November 2nd, 1940.  Back then, the Youngstown State Penguins were only called Youngstown College.

The rivalry became big between the two Ohio teams who were just 50 minutes away from each other. The winner would earn the Steel Tire.  The Steel Tire is on display in the YSU Athletic Hall Of Fame at Stambaugh Stadium.

Both teams have played each other in Basketball, but this is the first time since 1995 where the teams will go head to head.  Youngstown State won by two possessions against Akron, 24-10.

The Penguins lead the series against the Zips, 19-14-2.  The longest winning streak is in favor of Akron, from 1963-1971, in which the Zips dominated the Penguins offense it seemed every game.

Youngstown State has won the last three match-ups from 1993-1995, but 26 years later, Akron looks to take back their steel tire and put the football team back to being bowl eligible.

Meanwhile, YSU is hoping to get back into the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-2017 season.

They had chances in 2019, but just came up short in the end.  Both teams had disappointing seasons in 2019, but for 2020, both are looking at changing that.

Youngstown State 2019 Recap

The 2019 Youngstown State football team started out with a 45-24 win over Samford in the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff Classic.  In that game, there were a number of stand out performances from players Ma’lik Richmond, Nathan Mays, Cash Mitchell, Braxton Chapman and Justus Reed who returned after an injury suffered before the 2018 season.

The Penguins would win three more games after that going 4-0 for the first time since the 2012 season.  Those wins came against Howard, Duquesne and Robert Morris. However, week four was different as YSU went to the UNI-Dome to take on Northern Iowa.

The Penguins were down 21-14 in the fourth quarter and were looking to tie the game.  That did not happen and YSU was forced to punt. Northern Iowa would use clock management to their advantage.  Quarterback Will McElvain found Aaron Graham for a first down and then rushed for one.

Not only would YSU lose for the first time, but the injury bugs caught up to them, as Nathan Mays was seen on crutches at the end of the game.  That would continue to be a trend as the Penguins lost two more dropping them to 4-3 and 0-3 in the Missouri Valley.

Those losses were to South Dakota State, in which the Penguins blew a 21-9 lead (lost 38-28), and Southern Illinois 35-10.  The Penguins bounced back to beat the winless Western Illinois Leathernecks 59-14. Joe Alessi was the biggest impact on offense with 13 carries 156 yards and two touchdowns.

Second Half Of 2019 Gets Worse

Mays was still banged up but threw four touchdowns with 182 yards in the game.  After the win, it was then time to get ready for North Dakota State. The game did not turn out well, as Mays injured his leg and was ruled out for the season.  YSU lost 56-17 against the now FCS champions and were only held to 278 yards of total offense.

After that, YSU lost two more, both against teams that were struggling even early on.  They lost 56-21 to South Dakota at the DakotaDome as the Coyotes defense locked down their running game.  Backup quarterback Joe Craycraft finished  18 of 30 with 246 yards and three touchdowns.

Their next loss was a 24-17 loss to Indiana State who lost their quarterback Ryan Boyle to injury earlier in the season.  The Sycamores used their rushing attack led by Michael Haupert and Nick Sims to win the game.  The biggest highlight for YSU was a Joe Craycraft 80-yard scamper.

The Penguins were now 5-6 and knew that they were out of the playoffs.  The only thing to do was finish strong for the seniors and to win. That happened, in a game that had YSU as the underdog.

In the regular-season finale, YSU hosted the Illinois State Redbirds and nearly shut them out, winning 21-3.

Zaire Jones and Terray Bryant picked off Illinois State quarterback Bryce Jefferson and Jack Baltz three total times, not letting them get in the endzone once.

ESPN also grabbed the biggest moment where Nathan Mays was led onto the field one more time, taking the final kneel down.  YSU finished 6-6, but the team has a strong young offense and defense returning for the 2020 season and look forward to taking on the Zips.

The last time YSU beat an FBS team was in 2012 against the Pittsburgh Panthers (final score 31-17).

Akron Zips 2019 Recap

For the Zips, their 2019 FBS season was more than a disappointment.  In 2018, they finished with four wins, and fired former head coach Terry Bowden.

In 2019, new head coach Tom Arth came over from Chattanooga in order to revive the zips program and get them back to a Bowl game for the first time since 2017.  The season was a dud, and the zips finished with a record of 0-12.

The Zips started out with a 42-3 blowout loss to Illinois at Memorial Stadium.  Akron only had 192 total yards on offense and the defense was gone throughout the game.

Then, Akron lost their next three, two being at home against UAB (31-20) and Troy (35-7).  Akron lost another away game, this time it was at Kelly/Shorts Stadium against the Central Michigan Chippewas.  That final score was 45-24.

Akron tried to make a comeback being down 34-14 against Umass.  They ended up cutting the lead to a two-possession game late in the third thanks to a Michiah Burton touchdown run and a Nate Stewart touchdown pass from Zach Gibson.

Gibson replaced both Kato Nelson and Robbie Kelley late.  In the end, the Minutemen held on for the 37-29 victory.

The Struggle Continues

The Zips even lost their Wagon Wheel to Roval Kent State at home, losing 26-3, which is a major step back to their 24-23 overtime victory in 2018.

Akron ended up putting a total of six points up in the next three games.  This was the worst three weeks in all of the program’s history. Akron was shut out by Buffalo (21-0) and Northern Illinois (49-0).  They also lost to Bowling green 35-6 and Eastern Michigan 42-14.

Their only other close game was a 20-17 loss to the Miami (OH) RedHawks.  Akron with Kato Nelson at quarterback for the third straight week and looked to get a big win against the Redhawks and possibly getting them out of bowl eligibility.

With great clock management by that offense, the RedHawks survived.  Akron’s last game was really disgusting and now the way for any players to go out.

The Zips hosted the Ohio Bobcats and it was not pretty.  Bobcats quarterback Nathan Rourke was 20-28 with 308 yards and four touchdowns.  Rourke also had a rushing touchdown.

All three Akron quarterbacks finished with a total of 33 yards on 4/27 passing and two interceptions.  This was not a good way to end the decade, going 0-12 for the first time in program history.


Both teams have different and yet the same kind of goal heading into 2020, the start of the new decade.

Akron is trying to win their first game since October 27th against Central Michigan and to go bowling again.

Youngstown State meanwhile begins their new search for a head coach as Bo Pelini is now the defensive coordinator at LSU.

YSU and Akron will play each other September 5th at InfoCision Stadium-Summa Field.  Both teams are hungry and want a piece of that steel tire soon.