Missed opportunities in first half prove costly

PITTSBURGH — At halftime, the missed opportunities almost seemed like a silly thing to dwell on for Youngstown State.

Sure, YSU could have maybe given Pitt a scare in the first two quarters if they finished a few drives deep into the Panthers’ territory, but what did it matter? Pitt was clearly the better team, dominating in nearly every area of the game.

Two quarters and one overtime session later, the Penguins were wondering what could have been following a 28-21 loss to the Panthers.

YSU had drives end at the Pitt 36- and 26-yard line in the first half and didn’t score a point. The Penguins punted on fourth-and-9 from the 37, and junior kicker Zak Kennedy missed a 43-yard field goal attempt. The botched chances were part of a frustrating first half for YSU, which trailed 21-0 at halftime.

“We had some opportunities in the first half, and it didn’t happen for us,” YSU coach Bo Pelini said. “Those lost points in the end probably cost us the game. We left a lot of plays out there.”

While the Penguins rallied to tie the game and send it to overtime, an interception on first-and-10 from the Pitt 13 sealed the Panthers’ win. YSU quarterback Hunter Wells, who played well throughout the game, completing 18-of-32 passes for 311 yards and two TDs, took blame for the loss.

“We didn’t win, so I’m not going to sit here and tell you I played a great game,” Wells said. “We only had those three drives that first half. If you want to look for someone to blame, blame me. I missed a read the first drive. The second drive I overthrew Tevin (McCaster) on a wheel route. The third drive I came out and had an intentional grounding, and then obviously at the end, I’ve just got to take care of the ball, be a senior and not look like a freshman out there.”

FRESHMAN PHENOM: Part of the reason YSU made a second-half surge was because of true freshman running back Christian Turner. The Cincinnati La Salle High School product caught five passes for 124 yards and two TDs (the second tying the game at 21). He also ran the ball three times for 32 yards.

He said he wasn’t fazed by the near-70,000 capacity stadium partly because he played in two state championship games in high school (winning both).

“It was awesome,” said the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Turner of the experience. “It was everything I ever dreamed of since I was a little kid. It’s basically a dream come true.”

Turner also returned two kicks for 33 yards to account for a game-high 189 all-purpose yards.

SAVED BY THE DEFENSE: The Penguins’ comeback was almost thwarted by a strange play early in the fourth quarter.

YSU trailed 21-7 and lined up with in an offensive set on fourth-and-10 at Pitt’s 39-yard line. Wells then took a few steps back and attempted a pooch punt, but defensive lineman James Folston snuck through the middle of the line and deflected the kick. Safety Jazzee Stocker caught the deflection and returned it 66 yards to YSU’s 4-yard line. A YSU defense that had been ravaged in the first half pushed the Panthers back on three plays, sacking Pitt QB Max Browne on third-and-3. The Panthers then missed a 28-yard field goal attempt.

“We manned-up in the second half,” Bo Pelini said. “I was proud of the way our guys responded.”

POWELL’S BIG DAY: A big part of the defensive resurgence was YSU safety Jalyn Powell.

The Warren G. Harding graduate had a career-high and team-best 14 tackles. Powell, who transferred to YSU from Michigan State as a sophomore, started a few games last year and is now the regular starter at safety.