YOUNGSTOWN - Everyone at Stambaugh Stadium knew Saturday night's contest between Youngstown State and Northern Iowa was going to come down to the final minute. It has for the past two years, why not again?
But this year, the Penguins and Panthers decided to make it even more dramatic - having the game come down to the final play and second.
And for the first time in 11 years, the YSU Penguins had the clock run out in their favor.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
As a steady rain fell, Youngstown State wide receiver Christian Bryan makes a reception and turns the ball up field as Northern Iowa’s Edwin Young, center, goes for the ball and teammate Sam Tin, right, follows on the play during the first half of Saturday’s game at Stambaugh Stadium. YSU beat UNI for the first time in more than a decade, 42-35.
With 5 seconds remaining in the game, UNI quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen threw an 11-yard pass intended for receiver Brett LeMaster. And while YSU's Ali Cheaib and Don D'Alesio were able to break up the play, LeMaster was still called for the offensive pass interference.
Game over. YSU wins 42-35 and ends the looming 11-game losing streak to the Panthers.
"(There's a) lot of energy right now, a lot of relief let out all at once," YSU quarterback Kurt Hess said. "It's definitely a significant win for our football team and for this program. We're well aware of that, but at the same time we need to stay hungry."
Hess, who kept the Penguins in the game with probably the best game of his career, could only sit back and watch as his defense tried to preserve the victory he orchestrated.
"I thought to myself, 'Just one more play. They may have one more second after the pass interference, just hold on for one more play,' " Hess said. "If our defense could just hold on, we were going to win the game."
Hess had to stand and watch a drive that lasted 1:42 in football time, but what seemed like an eternity.
UNI started its drive at its own 35 and - connecting on pass after pass. Kollmorgen even converted two fourth-down plays, which took the game down to the final 10 seconds. UNI had a first and 10 at the YSU 18.
Kollmorgen found LeMaster for a 7-yard pass, now giving the Panthers a second-and-3 with 5 seconds left - only time for one play. The rest is history.
"I just knew the man upstairs was watching out for us," YSU coach Eric Wolford said. "He was watching out for all the Penguins."
Though the defense made the final stand, without Hess' arm and legs, the game might have ended up very different. The junior quarterback threw for 290 yards and four touchdowns.
Though the last play of the game put a seal on the victory, a gutsy fourth-down play might have been the play of the game.
Trailing 35-28 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Penguins faced a fourth and 4 on the UNI 29. Always willing to roll the dice, Wolford went for it - and Hess made sure it counted, finding Will Shaw for a 26-yard pickup, just short of the touchdown. Two plays later, Torrian Pace punched it in, tying the game at 35.
"I think that's one of the biggest (plays of my career)," Hess said of the play to Shaw. "That's something that Will and I have worked on. And we've thrown so much together, and working out together. It's really good to see him make a play like that."
Though the YSU defense had its struggles during the game, especially in the second half, the next drive by UNI was stopped by the Penguin defense, holding UNI to a three-and-out.
Hess, with the help of Jamaine Cook's legs, took the Penguins 79 yards over the course of eight plays. The drive ended when Hess found Christian Bryant in the end zone for his fourth touchdown pass of the day. Bryan was just one of four receivers to be on the other end of a Hess touchdown pass. Shaw, Nate Adams and Andrew Williams all had catches for six points on Saturday night.
Even during the first half of the game, the scoring was back and forth. The teams traded touchdowns in the first quarter, then YSU took a 14-7 lead in the fourth. UNI though scored 21 unanswered points in the second and third quarters, before YSU was able to find its offensive rhythm again.
To say the Panthers had been a thorn in the side of the Penguins is an understatement. UNI coach Mark Farley had never lost to YSU in the Panthers' 11-game winning streak.
And though the Penguins were excited to break the streak, Hess said this game is just a check on the list of bigger things to come.
"It was crazy in the locker room, and it's exciting for us," Hess said. "We're going to enjoy it. Like coach always says, you have 24 hours to enjoy this. So we're definitely going to do that, but we need to realize that this is just one small step for our bigger goals. We need to keep our minds on what we want to achieve. It's not just one game. We want to win the whole thing."