Necks capture first conference win


Becca Langys/Photo Editor

Quarterback Sean McGuire scanning the field as he carries the ball looking to complete a pass.

Christopher Bean, Courier Staff

MACOMB, Ill.— The Western Illinois University football team took on the Youngstown State University Penguis. Both teams came in after their bye with a 1-2 record to start Missouri Valley Conference play. The Leathernecks won their homecoming game by a score of 45-38 and now move to 2-2 on the season and 1-0 in conference.

Head coach Jared Elliot couldn’t be more proud of his team but knows that this is only the beginning of a hard conference schedule.

“Wins don’t come easy,” Elliott said. “And they really don’t come easy in the Missouri Valley Conference, you have got to earn every single win you get. Our kids earned this one.”

Western looked to win back-to-back games after dropping the first two. They beat Montana 31-27, while Youngstown State also looked to win two in-a-row after beating Valparaiso 42-7 two weeks ago.

Western started the game on offense and it couldn’t have gone better. They had a beautiful 10 play 83-yard drive capped off by an eight-yard reception caught by senior tight end Adam Conrady. Western failed the two-point conversion to stay 6-0. Youngstown State punted after four plays, followed by a Western punt.

Youngstown State got their first score of the game from senior running back Tevin McCaster from three yards out. They converted the PAT to go up 7-6.

YSU took the lead into the second quarter. Western was in Penguin territory to begin the quarter. The Penguins got called with pass interference on the first play to put Western inside the red zone at the 19-yard line. Western’s offense stalled setting up a Sam Corsa 35-yard field goal to put Western back in the lead 9-7. On the next kick-off, Christian Turner took it 76-yards to the Western 20. Western’s defense stepped up and pushed them back four yards back to force a 41-yard field goal. Zak Kennedy missed it keeping Western in the lead. The next three possessions ended in punts. The Penguins had a 3rd and 10 at their 41 with 3:32 to go in the first half. Youngstown quarterback, Montgomery VanGorder completed the pass, but it was intercepted by senior defensive back Zach Muniz returning it to the YSU 38-yard line for the 18-yard return. Western’s offense capitalized on the momentum booster and made it 16-7 thanks to the two-yard run from Sean McGurie. Western took that lead into halftime.

The Penguins got the ball to start the second half, but had to punt after only getting one first down. It didn’t take long for Western to score thanks to a 75-yard run from Steve McShane to put Western up 23-7. The touchdown was the longest play from the line of scrimmage. YSU stopped the bleeding with a 24-yard field goal from Zak Kennedy cutting the Western lead to 13. Western continued to stay hot scoring their third straight touchdown. McGuire found senior wide reciever Isaiah LeSure twice for a combined 48 yards to step up the score.

“Some guys have the natural ability to extend plays and keep the rise downfield and Sean [McGuire], he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen,” said Elliott. “A lot of guys drop the rise right away and he never does, it just shows you the guts he has. At the end of the day you like to say that’s coaching, that’s just two good players making a play.”

Senior defensive lineman Khalen Saunders caught the touchdown displaying his diversity on the field. YSU wouldn’t go away scoring 65 seconds later on a 21-yard reception from Zach Farrar to cut the lead to 30-17. The Penguin defense finally stopped Western’s offense, forcing a three-and-out. The Penguins got the ball back with 2:36 left in the third quarter and completed a 15-yard pass that put the Penguins at the Leathernecks 18 yard-line to end the third.

Seven plays into the fourth Tevin McCaster ran in for the two-yard touchdown on fourth and goal making it a one score ball game. Eight plays later, Western Illinois answered right back thanks to McGurie finding LeSure for a 30-yard touchdown. Adam Conrady caught the pass to convert the two-point conversion putting Western up 38-24 with 8:06 left in the game. In the first play of the next series, captain Quentin Moon forced a fumble recovered by Will Riggs Baxter to setup Western with great field position to try and put the game away. Two plays later Western capitalized from 32 yards out when Sean McGurie found running back Clint Ratkovich to put Western up three scores with 7:08 left.

Youngstown scored with four minutes left when VanGorder found Jermiah Braswell for the 11-yard score. With only 4:05 left and Western up 45-31, Youngstown needed two onside kicks to have any chance to come back. Youngstown recovered the onside kick to make things more interesting.

However, the defense had other plans. Senior safety Justin Fitzpatrick intercepted the ball creating the third and final turnover of the day. Western stalled and was forced to punt with under two minutes to play. YSU got the ball back with 1:40 left and scored 63 seconds later thanks to VanGorder’s third touchdown pass of the game.

With only 37 seconds left YSU was hoping to get their second onside kick, but Western recovered this one, which basically ended the game. Western ran one more play in victory formation making it final.

“It was a back and forth game at times,” McGuire said. “But we were resilient, we were tough, we kept fighting and we came out with a win.”

The Leathernecks gained more momentum headed back on the road where they have struggled so far, starting 0-2. They will travel to Illinois State University, currently 3-0 on the season, putting them in the top-10 in the FCS. However, they laid an egg in their first conference game to Missouri State on the road.

Western will attempt to win their third consecutive game to go over .500 for the first time this year. And there’s no better way than getting it on the road against your in-state rival, the Illinois State University Redbirds who are ranked in the top-25.

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