Oct. 15, 2011
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Youngstown State exploded for 28 second-half points to rally for a 35-23 win over Southern Illinois on Saturday.
The Penguins (3-3, 2-2) trailed, 17-7, at halftime before YSU running back Jamaine Cook took control of the game. The first time he touched the ball in the second half, Cook chugged 69 yards down the left sideline, breaking tackles along the way. It was a sign of things to come as he finished the game with 184 rushing yards -- the most allowed by SIU's defense this season - including 134 in the second half.
The Penguins out-gained Southern on the ground, 200-64, and held a 464-248 advantage in total yards.
The Salukis (2-4, 1-3) took advantage of a pair of Youngstown fumbles in the first half to mount touchdown drives of 43 and 58 yards. Jewel Hampton capped the drives with TD runs of two and six yards. K Jackson MacLachlan added a 34-yard field goal just before halftime.
Even with a 10-point lead, it was hard for SIU to feel comfortable, since the Penguins had out-gained Southern, 190-142, in the half.
"In the first half, we didn't control the tempo but at the same time there was a level of efficiency that was allowing us to play to a point where we give ourselves a chance to win," Saluki head coach Dale Lennon said. "In the second half, we didn't have that same level of performance."
Youngstown scored touchdowns on its first two possessions of the second half -- an 18-yard Kurt Hess to Christian Bryan touchdown pass, and a two-yard TD plunge by Cook that gave the Penguins a 21-17 lead.
Southern found it difficult to establish much of anything on offense in the second half. The team's most productive player was kick returner Steve Strother, who ran back five kickoffs for a 39-yard average. His 56-yard return set up the team's only second-half touchdown, a 20-yard scamper by Hampton that gave SIU a brief 23-21 lead.
"Our special teams are giving us the chance with the field position," Lennon said. "Offensively, we're just not efficient enough with what we're doing. We have to find the right formula to give our offense a chance to be more successful."
Youngstown took just six plays to respond with a touchdown of its own as Hess hit Jelani Berassa for a 15-yard strike. The key play in the drive was a 38-yard pass to Bryan.
In the four quarter, the Salukis let a golden opportunity to score slip away. Trailing, 28-23, SIU had the ball 1st-and-goal at the YSU 8. The field position was set up by a 42-yard pass completion from Kory Faulkner to tight end MyCole Pruitt, who caught eight passes for 124 yards on the day. A rush for no gain by Hampton, a penalty and pass play that lost six yards pushed the Salukis back to the 19, where MacLachlan missed a 36-yard field goal.
Lennon said he would have liked to use the power running game to put points on the board in that situation.
"Their defensive line gave us a lot of issues," he admitted. "They kind of won the battle up front and we just weren't able to establish that four or five-yard run on a consistent basis that we have in the past."
Down by five, the Salukis had one last shot with three minutes remaining, but LaSteven McKinney fumbled a punt and Youngstown's Josh Lee recovered in the end zone for an easy touchdown to make it 35-23.
Making his second-career start at quarterback for Southern, Faulkner completed 20-of-35 passes for 184 yards and an interception. He was sacked four times.
"I'm sure Kory (Faulkner) will look back and he'll see some throws that he missed that could have been a difference maker here and there," Lennon said. "We thought we had a good plan going in with some things we could do with our passing game to get some guys open."
The Salukis lost their third-straight game and will play at league-leading Northern Iowa next weekend.
"My message to the team after the game was, 'I'm not giving up,'" Lennon said. "You get up the next day and go back to work while working a little harder. There's no magic involved here, there's no solution that can make it all right all of the sudden. It's a process. You keep working hard and eventually you'll get that break."