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YSU outlasts Incarnate Word in OT, 44-41

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU senior Jaleel McLaughlin dives into the end on a late touchdown Thursday evening.

YOUNGSTOWN — As the Youngstown State football team enters its locker room, a one-word message is displayed overhead: “Finish.”

In their season opener against Incarnate Word on Thursday night, the Penguins did just that.

Trailing by three with just 39 seconds to play, YSU drove 52 yards to the UIW 23 to set up a Colt McFadden field goal to force overtime. McFadden would later hit a 27-yard walk-off field goal to send the Penguins to a 44-41 victory on a thrilling night at Stambaugh Stadium.

“I’m just proud of the fight. We said all week it was going to be a 60-plus (minute) game, four-plus quarters. I even told (the players) field goals wouldn’t win this game, but what the heck do I know?” YSU head coach Doug Phillips said. “The grit we talk about, with Grit U, I hope that was evident in our young men tonight. When they needed to, they made big stops at the end of the game. They never quit, never stopped fighting and gave us an opportunity to go into overtime and win it in overtime.”

YSU (1-0) tailback Jaleel McLaughlin set up McFadden’s tying kick as he collected a pass from Demeatric Crenshaw and raced 45 yards.

“I was thinking about trying to get into field goal range. I thought I was further back than I was, and I looked up at the clock and saw there were three seconds left, so I just tried to get down as soon as I could,” McLaughlin said. “I just tried to do what I could to get the team into field goal range knowing we were down three.”

For his part, McLaughlin was YSU’s catalyst the entire night. The senior racked up a career-high 242 yards on the ground and scored twice. He also added 46 receiving yards. His rushing total ranks seventh-most all-time at YSU, and he was the first tailback to break 200 yards since Jody Webb posted 213 against Wofford in 2016.

McFadden, meanwhile, came up clutch when his number was called. The senior and Poland native went 3-for-3 on the night.

“When the team calls upon you to make a kick like that after everything they’ve gone through all game, you have to make sure you give it your best effort and do everything you can,” a humble McFadden said. “I really appreciate my protection team, snapper and holder. They were on point all night. Those guys truly do so much for me to set me up for success.”

Were they the biggest kicks McFadden has taken in his career?

“I would say so, yeah,” he said. “I enjoyed them; what a way to start our season with a game like that.”

On its overtime possession, UIW (0-1) struggled to move the ball, and on third down, UIW quarterback Cam Ward was sacked by Vinny Gentile for a 21-yard loss. On fourth and 25, the Cardinals went for it from the 40, and Ward nearly picked up the first down on a scramble before a big hit jarred the ball loose and YSU recovered.

The Penguins and UIW went back-and-forth through most of the night. Youngstown State took an early 14-0 lead before the Cardinals stormed back to get within 24-21 at halftime. Then, in the second half, the teams began trading scores.

Incarnate Word had a couple opportunities to land haymakers that would have been the difference, but the Penguin defense stood tall.

Early in the fourth, the Cardinals drove to midfield before their drive stalled out and they were forced to punt.

Then, on their next possession, they went 3-and-out. However, with a 34-31 lead and on a fourth and 1, the Cardinals elected to roll the dice, handing the ball to tailback Kevin Brown. YSU’s Hunter Allen came up big with a tackle for loss, handing the ball back to the Penguins deep in UIW territory.

“If I was in that situation, I’m going for it,” Phillips said.

He later added, “Fourth and one in a game like that, back and forth, I would’ve gone for it on fourth down. I look at our defense, who was on the field a lot tonight, and they made a huge play when they had to.”

A handful of plays later, Crenshaw cashed in on a 3-yard touchdown run to put his team ahead, 38-34.

Crenshaw, a redshirt freshman, made his first career start Thursday. He completed 9 of his 12 pass attempts for 112 yards and a touchdown, and added 81 yards and two scores on the ground.

“He decided ‘I’m going to score a touchdown here.’ To see that leadership from a young man (is great),” Phillips said.

With 2:15 to go, however, Incarnate Word had plenty of time to drive. The Cardinals marched 75 yards on eight plays and capped their drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Ward to Trevor Begue.

The win was a flip of the script for a YSU team that struggled to finish games in the spring, during which the Penguins finished 1-6. In each of those losses, the Penguins were within a possession in the second half.

“To go and execute, that’s what you want to see. You can put stuff on walls, and you can talk about the words, but to go do it and demonstrate it and see it tonight, those are things we emphasize,” Phillips said. He added, “We talked all week about whatever it takes, we have to stay together through the highs and lows, and there were highs and lows in that game. Our kids stayed together, and that’s the brotherhood that’s building in the locker room.”

The Penguins visit Michigan State on Sept. 11 in the only other non conference game of the season. Kickoff is at noon.

jwhetzel@tribtoday.com

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