YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO — The Leathernecks were on the road again with a flight east to Youngstown, Ohio to face the Youngstown State Penguins, in what turned out to be a gloomy day across most of the midwest. It was a fast-paced and fast-scoring day, just mostly for the Penguins, that resulted in a 59-14 loss for Western Illinois, taking the losing streak to 10 games, extending into the final two games of the 2018 season.
The Leathernecks faced a hungry Penguins squad, who were on a three-game losing streak after starting the season a perfect 4-0, debuting on ESPN against Samford.
It didn’t take long at all for the Penguins to find the endzone. In fact, the Penguins took the kickoff and went right down the field, when Joe Alessi ran it in from 44 yards out.
Saturday’s game looked to be on pace for a shootout when the Leathernecks quickly answered, when Connor Sampson found Clint Ratkovich for a 36-yard passing touchdown, after all of 27 seconds ran off the clock.
Now, the next 10 minutes saw plenty of scoring. Over the next 10 minutes, three big yardage plays from Youngstown State occurred: a 56-yard run, 40-yard pass and 54-yard pass. Just like that, Western Illinois went from hopeful with a 7-7 tied game to stunned, down 28-7 after just one quarter of play.
Earlier, we said that Youngstown State was able to easily find the end zone only 1:10 into the game. They sort of duplicated that going into the second quarter, just taking six minutes off the clock en route to the end zone with a 1-yard touchdown pass to make this one even more out of reach at 35-7.
No, the Penguins were not done yet that quarter. Albeit, the aforementioned Alessi was kept out of the endzone after his hot start. Although that may be a slight consolation for the Leathernecks, Youngstown State continued displaying the effects of their solid passing attack under the leadership of senior quarterback Nathan Mays.
It seemed that Youngstown State was driving once again in the later ticks of the second quarter, looking to ice this one, but for just the third time to that point of the game, the Western Illinois defense did prevent a touchdown. The Penguins’ kicker, Colt McFadden, split the uprights for a 25-yard field goal.
After the Leathernecks fumbled the ball, it was recovered by Youngstown State at the Western Illinois 39 and subsequently taken in for a touchdown with no time left in the half.
With still another 30 minutes left to play, Western Illinois found itself behind by a score of 45-7 at the break.
Western Illinois would get the ball to start the third quarter. They would wind up punting. Youngstown State got great field position at the Leatherneck 46 and turned it into yet another touchdown, leading 52-7 after the point after.
The Leathernecks seemingly couldn’t piece it together, having to punt twice more. Then, it was the Penguins breaking through for what would end up being their final score of the game, ending the third quarter with a 59-7 lead.
With a small amount of time left in the third, Western Illinois would still have the ball, but time ran out in the quarter, so they had a shot in the fourth.
After a drive that ultimately took two minutes and 32 seconds, the Leathernecks finally punched it in for their first score since the passing touchdown in the first quarter. Same players, different time. Sampson found Ratkovich for a short, four-yard passing touchdown to set the final score at 59-14.
As mentioned earlier, Western Illinois falls to 0-8 with the loss. They will return home this Saturday, to face a South Dakota Coyotes team that has some pretty notable opponents to this point of the season. The Coyotes lost to No. 25 Montana (31-17), the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners (70-14), and the No. 14 Northern Iowa Panthers (42- 27), who Western Illinois will close out the regular season schedule with.
A big game looms large after the South Dakota game, as the Leathernecks travel to Fargo, North Dakota, a town that has been rated the second best college football town, FBS or FCS, only behind Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The North Dakota State Bison are once again the No. 1 team in the FCS with an 8-0 record and currently on a 29-game winning streak. The Bison play Youngstown State next.