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Finally finishing

YSU dominates on ground to clobber South Dakota

Correspondent photos / Robert Hayes Youngstown State senior linebacker Grant Dixon, left, strips the ball from the hands of Kai Henry of South Dakota during the second half of the Penguins’ 28-10 win over the Coyotes on Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium.

YOUNGSTOWN — It’s been a feeling that coach Doug Phillips and the Youngstown State Penguins have been searching for.

When the clocks hit triple zeros Saturday afternoon at Stambaugh Stadium on a gorgeous sunny day, for the first time in Phillips’ tenure as the YSU coach, the Penguins were able to taste a victory.

As per tradition, the team ran over to the East Side stands following the game, positioned in front of the YSU Marching Pride band to sing the fight song and express their jubilant feelings — winless no more.

YSU 28, South Dakota 10.

It’s been 483 days since Youngstown State found itself on the right end of a victory, with the 2020 season pushed back into the spring and YSU losing the first four contests of the unusual conference-only slate.

“I’m just happy for the kids, just to go through the year we went through,” Phillips said during his postgame press conference “When you get a victory, you usually think of the journey, and to know where we’ve come from through the pandemic, through the quarantine to being shut down.

“And to be able to go out and get a win for our kids, get a win for Youngstown, get a win for the fans that were in the stands, who were incredible, you can hear them. That’s what we worked for, and I’m just so proud of our kids.”

YSU’s win comes off the heels of a pair of nail-biting defeats to nationally-ranked Southern Illinois and South Dakota State. Unlike in those two contests Youngstown State found a way to play a complete game for the most part, and finish during the fourth quarter.

Saturday afternoon started off well for YSU, forcing a three and out on South Dakota’s opening possession, then using a 13 play drive to score on a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Mark Waid (Girard) to senior running back Christian Turner on a seam route.

“It’s just what we practice,” Turner said about his touchdown reception. “Coach Troy (Rothenbuhler) put the play in and it was a good play.

“It’s just a great feeling being able to go out there and perfect what you’ve been practicing all week, so it was a great feeling.”

An ensuing two-point conversion on a pass from Waid to London Pearson put the Penguins up 8-0.

Ahead 11-0 after a 32-yard field goal off the leg of Colt McFadden (Poland), a muffed punt by Jake Coates (Kennedy) gave South Dakota some momentum at YSU’s 34 yard line.

The Penguins held their ground, however, in a defensive stand that included the first career sack for redshirt freshman Chris Fitzgerald (East), one of five YSU sacks after entering the contest with none on the season. The Penguins forced the Coyotes into a 37-yard field goal.

“Bend, don’t break, as a defense, whenever the team needs us we’re out there playing hard,” senior linebacker Grant Dixon said. Hho recorded an interception and forced a fumble. “I said it earlier in the week, if everyone does their job, runs toward the ball, good things will happen. I think we showed that today.”

South Dakota (1-3), a team that uses a pass-heavy, high-tempo offense, struggled to piece together drives with freshman Carson Camp going 21-for-30 passing, but for only 214 yards against a YSU secondary that made plenty of open field tackles.

It wasn’t much different on the ground, with South Dakota finishing with only 12 net yards rushing on 26 attempts.

“We knew that if we kept pressuring, we’d wear them down,” Dixon said. “Just like anything, just like our offense kept running the ball, wear down the other team, and that’s what our thing was.

“If we keep pressuring, running our paths, some of the sacks we got weren’t even the blitz paths, it was guys adding in and we made the quarterback get out of the pocket.”

Junior running back Jaleel McLaughlin had another effective game for YSU with a season-high 166 yards, to help the Penguins control the pace of play. Waid added 74 yards on the ground.

A 1-yard touchdown run by Waid came after a 9-yard run on 4th-and-1, to put YSU ahead 18-3 midway through the third.

The icing on the cake for YSU was a 38-yard blast to paydirt early in the fourth quarter by Turner through the line and toward the left end. That TD made the score 28-3.

“I got to see (Turner) right after the game, and Christian is one, he’s a journeyman,” Phillips said. “He’s had his highs and lows here with the program and he stuck it out, and to see him flourish the last two weeks, I couldn’t be any more proud.

“He’s a great leader in that locker room, I think our boys look to him for that leadership. We’re young, so anytime you get someone who’s been through the highs and lows of college football, to see him succeed and see him explode there on that touchdown, I was just so happy for him.”

South Dakota got a late touchdown but YSU wore down the last eight and a half minutes using a mix of McLaughlin, Turner, and Waid to close out their first win of the campaign.

South Dakota’s Kai Henry was limited to only 14 yards on nine rushes after going for 130 yards and a pair of scores the last time the Coyotes played the Penguins.

Youngstown State (1-4) plays its final home game of the spring season next Saturday against MVFC newcomer North Dakota (4-1), which went into Saturday as the second-ranked team in the country, but suffered its first loss, 34-13, at fourth-ranked North Dakota State.

“Every week we continuously get better,” Turner said. “We come in, after the games, we watch the film, we break it down, we see what we did wrong. We correct it, and we just build on that.”

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