Pelini’s Penguins Freeze Out Terriers In Double Overtime Playoff Thriller, 30-23

Ron Stevens/YSU Athletics

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — In a game between two unseeded teams that had more twists and turns than the blustery wind that howled through the Ice Castle on Saturday afternoon, Youngstown State outlasted Wofford for a 30-23 victory in double overtime that vaulted the Penguins into the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the first time since 2006.

Tevin McCaster’s two-yard touchdown burst to begin the second overtime period was the only score in the extra sessions and YSU’s stopped the Terriers twice to lift the Penguins to a dramatic win at Stambaugh Stadium that turned back the clock on Youngstown’s era of success under coach Jim Tressel when he led the team to four national titles and six championship-game appearances in the 1990s.

But McCaster’s tally was just one of the final acts to a contest that went back and forth all afternoon.

Wofford (10-4) had a chance to win the game on the final play of regulation after a short YSU punt gave the Terriers the ball at the Penguin 45. But after three dive plays put WC in position for a potential 53-yard field goal from David Marvin — who was 17-of-21 this season before that attempt with four 50-plus-yard kicks — but Marvin’s final effort was knocked down by the wind and fell well short.

The Terriers also had a chance to take the lead in the first overtime before a bad Joe Newman pitch was fumbled out of bounds on a fourth and one foot play from the Youngstown two.

The Penguins’ Zak Kennedy missed field goals of 37 yards on a block in the fourth quarter and 34 yards on an errant kick in the first overtime before driving for their final TD. Kennedy also failed from 43 yards in the first period and missed an extra point in the second quarter.

“We left a lot of points on the field today,” YSU coach Bo Pellini said.

Wofford’s option-based attack struggled mightily in the first half behind starting quarterback Brandon Goodson, but the Terriers took a 9-0 lead in the first quarter when Mason Alstatt blocked a Mark Shuler punt early in the first period to set up Lorenzo Long’s one-yard option run and Malik Rivera intercepted Hunter Wells’ pass to set up Marvin’s 37-yard field goal.

Youngstown (11-3) stormed back with two touchdowns in the final six minutes of the second stanza when Wells (15-of-22, 173 yards, three TDs passing) found Darien Townsend for nine yards and Damoun Patterson for 45 yards to lead 13-9 at the half.

It took just one play from scrimmage for the Terriers to turn the game around when backup quarterback Newman scampered 75 to open the second half for the score to put Wofford ahead 16-13.

With Jody Webb shredding the tough Terrier run defense for a career-high 213 yards on 34 carries, YSU used its strong offensive line to set up another touchdown drive. Wells fired a back-shoulder pass to Isiah Scott on third down for the touchdown that made it 20-16.

Wofford immediately responded with its best drive of the game, going 75 yards in 13 plays and milking over seven minutes off the clock to push ahead 23-20 with 9:22 remaining in regulation on Long’s six-yard run on another option pitch.

It took less than four minutes for Webb to move YSU into scoring range again and this time Kennedy finally found the range on a field goal from 32 yards to tie the game.

Wofford was stopped on its next drive near midfield and decided to have Marvin punt on fourth and three. Marvin responded with a near-perfect punt that was downed at the YSU two and the Penguins left nearly a minute on the clock for the Terriers to get into field-goal range after Sheller’s wobbly punt was downed at the Penguin 45.

But on a day where special teams were an adventure in the cold, windy elements, Wofford couldn’t find a way to win in regulation, or overtime.

“There is no doubt it was disappointing,” said Wofford’s veteran coach Mike Ayers. “Two great teams scrapping against each other and we took their best shot and they took our best shots.”

Youngstown State moves on to the semifinals next weekend at No. 2-seeded Eastern Washington(12-1) , which crushed Richmond 38-0 on Saturday. The only other time these two teams have met, YSU beat EWU 25-14 in the 1997 semifinals on the way to its fourth national title under Tressel.