Penguins finish 4-7 after blowing lead

NORMAL, Illinois — The worst season of Bo Pelini’s coaching career ended on Saturday, and now Youngstown State will wait to find out if it was his last with the Penguins.

YSU gave up 332 rushing yards and lost a fourth-quarter lead as Illinois State pulled away for a 35-28 victory at Hancock Stadium. The Penguins finished the season 4-7 (3-5 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference), which was their worst overall record since going 3-8 in 2010.

The 4-7 mark also was the worst in the 11-year head coaching career of Pelini, whose contract expires in February. He has previously said he would not talk about his future with the team until after the season. That time is now.

The Redbirds (6-5, 3-5) and running back James Robinson made sure the year ended on a sour note. The junior All-American running back ran for 256 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries (an 11.1 yard average). The Penguins still found a way to rally from a 14-3 deficit and take a 28-21 lead in the fourth quarter.

Senior running back Tevin McCaster ran for 142 yards and one TD on 33 carries, and Nathan Mays relieved starter Montgomery VanGorder to spark a rally. Mays connected with tight end Mile Joiner for a 58-yard TD to give the Penguins that 28-21 lead with 13 minutes, 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter. It took Illinois State just four plays to respond.

Robinson ran for 54 yards before giving way to Kevin Brown, who punched in a 5-yard TD to cap the 82-yard drive and tie the game at 28. The Penguins went three-and-out on their next drive, and the Redbirds again marched down the field for a score, with Brown again running it in, this time from 16 yards. Brown added 41 yards and two TDs on 13 carries for Illinois State.

YSU had three possessions to tie or take the lead but never crossed midfield.

Pelini, the high-profile Youngstown native who can become animated — and infuriated — on the sideline, is 27-22 in four years at YSU. He took the Penguins to the 2016 FCS Championship (a 28-14 loss to James Madison) but also had two losing seasons. The 50-year-old never endured a losing season in a seven-year stint with Nebraska, going 67-26 and winning at least nine games every year before being fired in 2014.