Missed opportunities darkened an otherwise bright and pleasant Hobo Day as the SDSU football team fell to the Youngstown State University Penguins by a final score of 30-27.
Perhaps the most pivotal of these opportunities came in the third quarter when the Jacks had a fourth and on the Youngstown State 22, trailing by three points. Instead of sending out Justin Syrovatka for the tie, head coach John Stiegelmeier elected to go for it, putting the ball in the hands of Zach Zenner who was stuffed at the line for a loss of one.
“If I had decided to kick the field goal on fourth and one there in the third quarter… so this one is mostly on me, but again I’m disappointed we didn’t play better. I’m disappointed I didn’t coach better,” Stiegelmeier said.
On that fourth down, Youngstown State took a timeout once they saw SDSU was going to go for it, but Stiegelmeier said the timeout didn’t affect what the Jacks wanted to run.
“It’s a heavy weight fight,” Stiegelmeier said. “It’s who’s the toughest at the point of attack and we stick four guys in the point of attack. They were tougher than we were.”
Prior to the fourth and one play, Zenner had already converted a pair of third and ones in the first quarter, busting loose for 25 yards on the first play and 10 yards on the second.
The missed opportunities began earlier though. On their opening drive, SDSU took the ball down the field, mostly via the running game. Zenner had his longest run of the game, 25 yards, and combined with quarterback Zach Lujan for three other carries of eight or more yards. Nevertheless, the drive stalled inside the 10 and SDSU settled for a field goal.
Throughout most of the first half the offenses dominated as the Penguins took a 23-20 lead into the half. Notably, the Jacks settled for field goals on two drives while the Penguins scored three touchdowns, missing one extra point.
The Penguins final scoring drive almost ended with a punt, but on third and 10 Martin Ruiz broke free for 13 yards, adding new life to the drive that would give Youngstown State the lead for good.
SDSU’s defense struggled throughout much of the half, surrendering 292 yards and allowing over 10 yards per carry on the ground.
“We came out flat in the first half,” said safety Nick Mears. “It was unacceptable and it ended up costing us the game. We gave up way too much big plays. We got them to third down a couple timed and couldn’t get them off the field and that ended up costing us.”
The Jacks bounced back in the second half, only giving up seven more points, but the damage was already done as the Penguins defense stifled the Jacks, grinding the running game to a halt in the second half as SDUS only managed 32 yards on the ground.
“The biggest thing was that we had to get settled in,” said Youngstown State head coach Eric Wolford.
Wolford credited some of his team’s success to practicing on a high school team’s “muddy” grass field to prepare for the game, something they had not done in preparation for SDSU in the past.
After falling 10 points behind in the fourth quarter with about eight minutes left, SDSU drove down the field and got on the board via a six-yard touchdown pass from Lujan to Zenner.
The defense would get a stop, but a 59-yard punt from Joey Cejudo pinned the Jacks on their own two.
“That might have been the play of the game,” Wolford said. “What a lot of people don’t know is that Joe Cejudo on Tuesday sprained his knee and thought he had a broken foot and was getting an X-ray on it Tuesday night. He came out there and played today.”
Lujan would lead the team to one first down, but a pair of penalties backed the Jacks right back up inside their own 10, and on fourth and 19 Julius Childs knocked away a potential first down reception from Jake Wieneke to seal the deal.
Despite being limited in the second half, Zenner did eclipse the 100-yard mark for the game, finishing with 117 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, but the bulk of SDSU’s offense came in the passing attack in which Zenner caught four passes for 37 yards and a touchdown.
Wieneke was the highlight of the Jacks’ offense, catching 10 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown on a day when Jason Schneider sat out with an injury.
Lujan also found other receivers, such as Brandon Andrews who had seven catches for 63 yards, on his way to 329 yards passing and two touchdowns as he completed 28 of 42 passes with no interceptions.
The bad news for Lujan was that he was sacked on six occasions, something that has haunted the Jacks of late.
“That’s the cards we’re dealt right now and we’re going to go to battle with those cards,” Stiegelmeier said. “[But] I am concerned about it.”
The Jacks (5-3, 2-2 MVFC) will be looking to bounce back next week when they take a trip to Fargo, N.D. to face the NDSU Bison whose record winning streak now stands at 32.
After being injured in the opener at Missouri, senior quarterback Austin Sumner came onto the field in full uniform for the first time. He did not enter the game, but during the postgame press conference Stiegelmeier played coy, neither announcing that Sumner would be able to play against NDSU nor ruling him out for that game.