NORMAL, Ill. - By the way the Youngstown State Penguins started Saturday's game agains tthe Illinois State Redbirds, it seemed as if the Penguins were going to roll to a victory and get back on the winning track.
Then came the second half.
Leading by 14 at the half, the Redbirds scored 21 unanswered points in the second half to rally back and defeat the Penguins, 35-28.
The victory improves the Rebirds to 6-1 (3-1 Missouri Valley Football Conference). This is the second straight loss for YSU, which falls to 4-2 (1-2 MVFC).
The Penguin killer on Saturday was Illinois State quarterback Matt Brown. The senior threw for three touchdowns and ran for one more.
Brown was 20 of 31 passing for 225 yards, including a 16-yard pass to Donovan Harden. Brown scored on a 1-yard run in the fourth for the Redbirds. He also threw touchdown passes to Lechein Neblett and Tyrone Walker.
YSU's Jamaine Cook put the Penguins on the scoreboard first with a 7-yard run. He had two more touchdowns, including a 14-yard run, keeping Youngstown out in front of Illinois State. Cook had 30 carries for 177 rushing yards.
Youngstown State quarterback Kurt Hess was 16 of 29 for 201 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown pass was a 2-yard pass to Kintrell Disher in the first quarter
Youngstown State had a 28-7 lead in the second quarter. The Redbirds came back, scoring 28 consecutive points and keeping Youngstown State scoreless in the second half.
The Penguins had their chances to score in the final minutes. With 9 minutes left and the score tied at 28, the Penguins' Aronde Stanton recovered a Redbirds fumble on the Illinois State 41 yard line. However, YSU failed to convert on fourth down, turning the ball over to the Redbirds on downs.
That proved to be fatal as Illinois State used seven plays to drive down the field and score the go ahead touchdown - the Brown 1-yard run.
YSU tried to drive to close out the game, but on fourth and 10 from the Illinois State 26, Hess was sacked to end the chance of a Penguins' comeback.
The Penguins try to bounce back next week against Southern Illinois. Kickoff is at 2 p.m.