In 2016, Youngstown State finished the regular season with a record of 8-3 and made it to the FCS Playoffs for the first time since 2006. After three wins against Samford, Jacksonville State, and Wofford, the Penguins were just one win away from going back to the Championship. During the off-season we have been taking a look back at memorable YSU moments. Now, we look at a throwback to YSU’s spectacular game of the season.
This game meant a lot particularly for new head coach at the time Bo Pelini in his second season. In order to make it however, they would have to play on the red turf of Eastern Washington’s Eagles, who were led by Gabe Gubrud and Cooper Kupp.
In the first quarter, Eastern Washington got the opening kickoff but the drive stalled after Jalyn Powell picked off Gubrud giving YSU early momentum.
The Penguins scored the first touchdown of the game on an eight-play drive finished with a Tevin McCaster four yard run making it 7-0 Youngstown State.
The Eagles got points on the board on their next possession when Gubrud hooked with now NFL receiver Cooper Kupp on a few plays leading to a Roldan Alcobendas field goal.
Later on in the end of the first, the Eagles first touchdown was scored when Gubrud found his number one man Kupp putting the Eagles up by three at the end of one.
Eastern Washington got the ball back and immediately had Gubrud show off the arm strength with an 83-yard pass to Kendrick Bourne making it a 10 point game.
After an Eagle punt, the Penguins looked to get some of that first drive momentum back. They would use the running game of Jody Webb and McCaster, but would get stopped. That’s when they brought out Zak Kennedy who hit a 42-yard field goal cutting the lead to seven.
Eastern Washington got the ball and nearly fumbled but got the ball back. Two plays later Sam McPherson ran the half back pass as he found Kupp for a 32-yard touchdown, extending it to 14.
The last possession for YSU then came with just under a minute to go before halftime. The drive led by Wells and Webb, finished off with McCaster finding the hole 20-yards to paydirt with it now 24-17 at half.
The beginning of the third started with Youngstown State driving pretty well and playing clock management. Wells found wide receiver Stefan Derrick, Webb and tight end Kevin Radar on the drive for 18 yards.
YSU was driving to the seven before it finally stalled by a good stance by the Eastern Washington defense. Kennedy hit the 20 yarder through the upright cutting it to only four points now.
Gubrud and the Eagles knew that they could not blow a 14 point lead they had going. That’s when he threw a bomb once more to Kupp and finished the drive off finding Shaq Hill for the touchdown, making it 31-20.
The momentum kicked up a notch even more for the Eagles after stopping YSU and forcing them to bring out Mark Schuler to punt, followed by a face mask 15-yard penalty.
That was it as Gubrud threw a costly interception to Billy Nico. At quarters end, it was now 31-20.
To most penguin fans now, this is where the tide turned in their favor. YSU’s first drive of the late third to early fourth quarter saw it become the Wells McCaster show.
McCaster got a few yards each carry and Wells found local talent Isiah Scott for an 18-yard pickup.
Couple plays later, it was Wells finding Alvin Bailey for his first touchdown pass. The lead was now cut to four once again in this crazy back and forth FCS Semi-Final matchup. One for the decades.
The Shocking Conclusion
With 6:30 to go in the game, the Penguins pounded the running game, something that has worked all year long. Wells handed the ball to McCaster who pounded the rock 12-yards out. For the first time since the first quarter, YSU now had the lead.
Following that score, Eastern Washington answered back with power of their own. Gubrud found receiver Stu Stiles for a 38-yard pickup and then Hill finished off the drive capping off a one yard touchdown, putting the Eagles up again and looking to advance to the FCS Championship.
That is when the unthinkable happened. That unthinkable still lives in some of these players’ heads today. With a long drive by YSU, the Penguins got the ball down to the eight yard line.
With just a second to go, it was either a miracle for the ages, or disappointment. Wells dropped back and put the ball into tight coverage. Somehow, Radar went behind the back of another Kupp in Kentar Kupp. Both fell down and the refs talked it over before making it an official touchdown.
Fans and players at the Red Turf Stadium of Roos Field were shocked to see what just happened.
The Penguins would make it to the FCS Championship game. They would lose to James Madison 28-14. But what a moment it was to witness that night and year in general.