YOUNGSTOWN - It wasn't flashy. By no means was it pretty. But at the end of the day, the Youngstown State Penguins came out of Stambaugh Stadium with another victory.
Paced by Jamaine Cook's 161 yards rushing and three touchdowns, and helped by some key miscues and penalties by Albany, the Penguins improved to 3-0 on the season with a 31-24 victory over the Great Danes.
"Any win is a good win," YSU defensive tackle Aronde Stanton said. "Regardless of the number, it's always a good win. It's good because over past years, when it came down to the clutch time and fourth quarter, we couldn't hold on. But today, we've said it's a new year and we held on."
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
YSU’s Torrian Pace (25) rushes as Albany’s Justinian Mason (28) and Tim Kologrivov, in front of Mason, try to tackle.
In the first quarter, YSU had to face a task it hadn't had to all year - trailing a ball game. After YSU had an unproductive first series in which the Penguins turned the ball over, Albany started its first series at its own 46. And then the Great Danes pulled some tricks out of their hat, using a double reverse flea flicker, ending with quarterback Will Fiacchi finding a wide open Cole King for a 44-yard touchdown.
But YSU responded, rushing a whole lot of Cook in the next series to give him his first touchdown of the night - a run of 2 yards.
The teams traded touchdowns the rest of the half, going into the locker room tied at 21. For both squads, the offenses were dictating the game, and it was merely a question of what defense was going to come out in the second half and make some stops. The answer to that would be YSU.
After the Penguins took a 24-21 lead on a David Brown field goal at the end of the third quarter, Albany began the fourth on the YSU side of the field, looking to take the lead back. On third-and 9 - a yardage situation the Penguins have not excelled in all year - Fiacchi was sacked by junior defensive end Kyle Sirl, his second sack of the night on third down.
"He came up big for us on those sacks," Stanton said.
Though YSU was able to score on the ensuing drive, the Penguins got a big play out of the special teams, as Ali Cheaib blocked the Albany punt, setting up YSU on the Albany 29. Nine plays later, Torrian Pace punched in a 1-yard touchdown, giving the Penguins the 31-21 lead.
Albany answered, driving down the field to get the field goal needed to make it a one-score game. The Great Danes tried the onside kick, but YSU's Dale Peterman came up with the ball, ending the Albany threat and sealing the best start for YSU since 2005.
Though the Penguins are off to a 3-0 start, there were many things during the game that YSU coach Eric Wolford was not pleased about, especially on his normally stellar offensive unit.
"I was disappointed in the drops. We had a couple key drops at key times and you can't have that," Wolford said. "I thought defensively they did a good job of confusing us and keeping us off balance."
The offensive numbers reflected the abnormal day for the YSU offense. Hess was sacked once, faced a lot of pressure during the contest, and Albany all put took away the YSU passing game. Hess finished with 183 yards in the air on 15-of-22 passing.
While YSU had its share of drops, so did Albany. The one that stands out above all others came in the beginning of the fourth quarter, when Albany's Drew Smith dropped a pass that hit him directly in the numbers and there wasn't a YSU player anywhere near him. The play would have resulted in a touchdown and turned the tables of the game.
"Sometimes you need good luck to happen" Stanton said. "I guess I just look at it as we were lucky."
Even with the help from "the man upstairs," as Wolford said, he was able to take some positives out of the game. The biggest one being that the Penguins were able to hold on in the fourth quarter.
"In any championship run you attempt to make, I think there is always a game like this, that you look back on, whether it's the Steelers, the Patriots, whatever, there is always a game like this," Wolford said. "Maybe the game was a little bit closer than people from afar would maybe take notice, and I think we learned some valuable things about that and hopefully we'll be able to chalk it up to experience. The good thing is we are 3-0 in the 'preseason' and we're getting ready to start conference play."
The Penguins will take the good and bad from this game and begin to prepare for UNI, a team that has plagued the Penguins in recent years. Kickoff for Saturday's game is at 7 p.m.