Confident Youngstown State stuns Pittsburgh 31-17
PITTSBURGH (AP)—Eric Wolford’s rebuilding project at Youngstown State is guided by 16 fundamentals the Football Championship Series program needs to follow if it wants to return to its former glory.
Among them: expect to win.
Don’t worry coach, the Penguins appear to have that one down pat.
Kurt Hess passed for 154 yards and two touchdowns, Andre Stubbs caught one score and ran for another and the Penguins stunned Pittsburgh 31-17 on Saturday night for their first ever victory against a Bowl Championship Series program.
“In our locker room we believed we could do it,” Hess said. “We believe in each other. It’s easily the biggest win of our careers.”
This wasn’t a last-second stunner. The Penguins never trailed, controlling the ball and the tempo with a spread offense that kept the Panthers off balance during a soggy night at Heinz Field.
Youngstown State converted 11 of 16 third downs, never turned it over and held the ball for more than 35 minutes.
“It was a great gameplan,” Hess said.
One that frustrated the Panthers from the start.
Though first-year coach Paul Chryst was brought in to provide the kind of eye-popping numbers he helped produce while calling plays at Wisconsin, he was concerned about a defense that featured seven new starters.
Pitt certainly looked inexperienced while dealing with Youngstown State’s tricky offense. One play the Penguins would line up with five wide receivers, the next Hess would hand it off to tailbacks Jamaine Cook or Andrew Stubbs, or keep it himself.
“Youngstown State’s offense did a good job of staying ahead of us,” Chryst said. “They executed well. They’ve got a good football team and they played that way. They beat us tonight.”
The Panthers could never seem to make a big play when they needed one. Four of Youngstown State’s five scoring drives lasted at least 10 plays.
It was the shortest one, however, that stunned the Panthers.
Leading by four points early in the second half, the Penguins faced a 4th-and-1 at the Pitt 23. Though a field goal would have put Youngstown State up a touchdown, Wolford kept the offense on the field.
The play is called “Penguin,” one the coaching staff devised in the middle of the week just for that specific situation. Hess took the snap and pitched the ball to Cook. Instead of bulling for the first down, however, Cook pulled up and threw a wobbly pass to a wide open Will Shaw. The tight end walked into the end zone to put Youngstown State up 21-10.
The Panthers never recovered.
Tino Sunseri threw for 239 yards and a score for Pitt, but the Panthers had no answer for the Penguins while losing to an FCS program for the first time.
“I don’t want to take anything away from their victory, but that’s not the real Pitt out there,” said Panthers defensive back Andrew Taglianetti.
Pitt hired Chryst in January hoping the former Wisconsin offensive coordinator could bring a sense of calm to a program that went through three coaches in 15 months.
While the straight-talking Chryst has won over the locker room, winning his first game will take a while longer.
The Panthers certainly looked inexperienced as the Penguins put together a series of clock-chewing, game-shortening drives.
Youngstown State scored the first two times it had the ball en route to a 14-10 halftime lead, putting together scoring drives of 79 and 92 yards.
Then the Penguins got bold.
Pitt tried to answer Youngstown State’s score with a gamble of its own midway through the third quarter. Only Isaac Bennett stutter-stepped and never came close on fourth-and-1 from the Penguins’ 21.
“They thought they would just run on us and score whenever they wanted to,” Youngstown State defensive lineman Aronde Stanton said. “We came out with the mentality we were going to stop them no matter what they did, create turnovers and we did that.”
Hess responded by guiding another lengthy drive, capped by a 13-yard burst by Stubbs that gave Youngstown State a 28-10 lead
“That was a championship drive,” Hess said.
Though the Panthers pulled within 28-17 on a 35-yard strike from Sunseri to Joshua Brinson, they would get no closer. Youngstown State added a late field goal for the final margin as the Chryst era began with a thud.
Chryst suspended six players before kickoff for disciplinary reasons, including freshman running back Rushel Shell, the leading rusher in Pennsylvania high school history.
Senior running back Ray Graham returned from a torn ACL in his right knee that cut short his 2011 season to rush for 71 yards on 14 carries, but his fumble in the first quarter cut short a Pitt drive and gave the Penguins all the spark they would need.