YOUNGSTOWN - Looking at the first four games of the Youngstown State University schedule, it was safe to assume the Penguins' season would begin at 3-1, with the only loss being to Big-Ten opponent Michigan State.
Behind the 292 passing yards from quarterback Kurt Hess and some clutch defensive plays, the Penguins defeated the Dukes, 59-17, at Stambaugh Stadium.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
YSU’s Nate Adams makes a catch in front of Duquesne’s E.J. Kosec for a score.
"Starting out 3-1 is where we want to be, obviously 4-0 would have been what we wanted, we took a shot there at Michigan State, but we bounced back." tight end Nate Adams said. "Three-and-one isn't a bad start, not what we wanted, but it's not a bad start. Now we just need to roll it, one by one, and one step at a time."
While the game ended up a blowout, the YSU offense started slow. The Dukes defensive line gave the Penguins fits in the opening minutes, causing YSU to punt on its first two possessions.
YSU's first points came with 4:16 left in the first quarter with a Joey Cejudo 40-yard field goal. The three points came after YSU recovered a Duquesne fumble on the Dukes 37. It was one of the three recovered fumbles YSU had on the night. The Penguins scored on two of the three fumble recoveries - the first was the Cejudo field goal and the second came in the fourth quarter when the game was already secured. The Penguins also added a David Rivers 40-yard interception return for a touchdown late in the fourth.
However, the game wasn't truly in hand until the early part of the fourth quarter - and once it was in hand the Penguins kept on scoring.
YSU had the 24-0 halftime lead after rushing touchdowns by Torrian Pace and Martin Ruiz and a Hess to Adams 52-yard score.
However in the third quarter, Duquesne began the half with 14 unanswered points. The Dukes got on the board less than three minutes into the half with Ethan Dorsey punching in a 1-yard run. That finished off a 74-yard drive that took eight plays.
After a YSU punt on the ensuing drive, the Dukes scored right away. With one play on their second possession of the half, quarterback Dillon Buechel connected with Gianni Carter for a 63-yard touchdown. Buechel, a redshirt freshman, finished the day with 362 yards passing on a 21-of-38 performance. Duquesne (1-2) needed every bit of those yards as it only accumulated 39 yards on the ground.
"We've been watching film on him all week, he's got a good career ahead of him," YSU cornerback Dale Peterman said, who was making his first appearance on the year after a knee injury. "They really like to go deep a lot. In the beginning of the game, they were trying to hit the quick gain and it was working for them. We made some second-half adjustments to try and stop that and we ended up on top."
After the two Duquesne touchdowns, the score closed to 24-14. However, instead of letting the Dukes get any closer, the Penguins went on a 21-0 run between the third and fourth quarters. Ruiz had two of those touchdowns with runs of 4 and 5 yards and Marcel Caver caught a 55-yard pass from Hess, extending the score to 45-14. The Penguins went on to outscore the Dukes 14-3 in the final frame.
YSU finished with 501 yards of offense - 328 in the air and 173 on the ground. Pace finished with 66 yards rushing and Ruiz had 65.
"We came out a little sluggish, which can't happen when coming into conference play," Adams said. "It's going to be big getting off to fast starts and keep rolling like we did in the second half. Just got a find a way to win, one game at a time, that's what we are going to do for the rest of the season."
Adams had a career day, catching four passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. The 108 yards is actually more than he had caught in his entire career combined (106).
"It felt good, it never feels bad to be in the end zone," Adams said. "Glad Kurt found me and I was able to make a play. Credit to the O-line for getting their blocks and giving him time to throw the ball."
Though the Penguins were happy with the win, they know the celebration time can only last a short while. Next week, YSU begins conference play on the road at Southern Illinois.
"I can tell you we are 3-1, we are disappointed that we lost to Michigan State, but it's kind of like a new season really for us," YSU coach Eric Wolford said. "I think our team understands the depth of our conference and how good our conference is. That's where our primary focus is and we are going to go jump on the road against Dale Lennon and his football team."