PITTSBURGH - Youngstown State quarterback Kurt Hess said this week that he thought the Penguins could beat the University of Pittsburgh at Heinz Field. He and the rest of the Penguins might have been the only ones to believe that.
After Saturday night, many more people will be believers in the Penguins.
Using a well-balanced offensive attack and the Penguins playing a complete game, YSU upset the Panthers, 31-17.
The Associated Press
Youngstown State wide receiver Andre Stubbs (4) dashes past Pittsburgh linebacker Eric Williams (49) for a touchdown in the second quarter of Saturday’s game in Pittsburgh. YSU won, 31-17.
"I believed in my teammates, I really did," Hess said. "Some people said this was a farfetched thing and it was way absurd, but we believed in the locker room that we could beat this Pitt team."
The win marks the first for the Penguins in a season opener since 2006 and the first time the Penguins have beat a FBS school since 2000, when YSU knocked off Kent State.
"It was big for our team," YSU defensive lineman Aronde Stanton said. "To start the season off right with a win and we also made history tonight. I'm just proud of the team and how hard we fought."
Throughout the first half, the teams were trading scores, and it was thought that it would be a tight game. Pitt began the contest by marching down the field, going 46 yards in six plays. It seemed the Panthers were going to get on the board first, until running back Ray Graham fumbled the ball, which was recovered by YSU's Jeremey Edwards.
The Penguins made the Panthers pay as Hess and the Penguin offense drove 79 yards and put up the first touchdown of the night - a 27-yard pass to Andre Stubbs.
That was just the first score of a very active first half. The Penguins had the halftime lead, 14-10. Although there was a sense the Penguins could pull off the upset, that feeling didn't become cemented until the third quarter.
With less than 3 minutes in the second half, the Penguins were facing a fourth-and-1, and there wasn't a doubt coach Eric Wolford was going for it. Not only did they go for it, the Penguins put a bit of flair behind it.
Hess took the snap and pitched it to tailback Jamaine Cook, who then connected with Will Shaw on a 23-yard halfback pass for the touchdown. After the PAT, the Penguins were up 21-10 and it became definite - the Penguins were winning this game.
"We've been talking (about that play) all week," Wolford said. "We knew it was a touchdown. I brought it up at the beginning of the week. I said we're going to be in a situation where it's going to be a four-down situation. I'm not going to kick a field goal and we're going to set them up with this toss play. It's called Penguin. He was wide open, it was a touchdown like we thought it would be all week."
If that didn't define the Panthers downfall, the defensive stop made by the Penguins three series later certainly did.
Sitting at fourth-and-1 on the YSU 21, the Panthers chose a run up the middle by Isaac Bennett to try and keep the drive alive. But the YSU defensive line made the biggest stop of the night, ending any hopes of a Panther comeback.
"We had our opportunities and there were times we didn't cash in on them," Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. "We didn't make enough plays.
"Youngstown State's offense did a good job of staying ahead of it. They executed well. They've got a good football team and they played that way. They beat us tonight."
As much as the play of the defense halted a comeback by the Panthers, the focus on the night was on the YSU offense. Hess picked right up where he left off last year, connecting on 13-of-23 attempts for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
However, the player of the game on offense was Stubbs, who played in his first game since the Illinois State game last season due to a collarbone injury. He had six rushes for 71 yards and added four catches for 61 yards. He also had a rushing and receiving touchdown.
"This feeling is unexplainable," Stubbs said. "I knew I was going to have a big role tonight, and I would have the chances to make plays."
The win without a doubt is the biggest for the Penguins in the Wolford era, and maybe the biggest since the Jim Tressel era ended. Though Wolford was more than pleased with the effort by the Penguins, he is giving them one day to celebrate.
Then it's on to Valparaiso, which the Penguins face Saturday at 4 p.m., in YSU's home opener.