A week after its frantic second-half rally failed to produce a victory, Western Illinois finished the job Saturday in Youngstown, Ohio.
In its opening Missouri Valley Football Conference game of the season, Western got a 20-yard field goal from Schaumburg’s Mason Laramie with 2 seconds remaining to beat Youngstown State, 38-35, after trailing by 28 points in the first half. The kick not only gave WIU (1-3 overall, 1-0 MVFC) its first win, but also provided the team’s first lead of the season.
Laramie’s winning field goal was his second attempt at the same distance. Moments before his game-winning kick, he made an attempt that was erased by a YSU timeout.
Western announced after the game that its 28-point comeback victory was the largest margin in MVFC history, breaking the previous record of 23 points.
“That was a big one for us on the road,” WIU head coach Jared Elliott said. “Our boys are battle-tested with the (non-conference) schedule we have played to this point.”
Here are three things Prairie State Pigskin learned about the Western Illinois victory:
- Try, try again
Last week, the Leathernecks lost a 62-56 home decision against Eastern Washington in which they trailed, 55-21. This week, they relied on a key defensive stop of YSU at the Penguins’ own 36 with less than 2 minutes remaining to get the ball back to its offense in a tie game. Two connections from quarterback Connor Sampson to tight end Mason Sikes provided a key first down, then running back Ludovick Choquette put together runs of 4 and 12 yards.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on YSU (1-2, 0-1) set the Leathernecks up at the Penguins’ 2 for Laramie to win the game.
2. Defense proves resilient
A leaky Western defense that gave up 62 points last week followed that up by allowing 35 in the first half Saturday. The Leathernecks didn’t let the rough start bury them.
Western allowed YSU only 97 yards of second-half offense. Only 76 of the Penguins’ 324 total yards came by the pass.
The star of WIU’s defense Saturday was defensive back Darius Joiner, who piled up a whopping 23 tackles to lead all defensive players on both teams. Six players combined for five tackles for loss, and linebacker Herschel Blankenship had a team-best three pass breakups for Western. Senior safety Mike Lawson grabbed an interception.
3. Offense remains potent
Win or lose, the WIU offense remains a point-scoring machine.
Sampson piled up 316 passing yards on 33 completions and threw four touchdowns. His favorite target, wide receiver Dennis Houston, grabbed nine passes for 110 yards. Fellow senior wideout Tony Tate and Choquette each had eight catches.
The Leathernecks finished the night with 400 total yards and 28 first downs.
The Leathernecks welcome Southern Illinois for a Missouri Valley Football Conference game Saturday, Oct. 3 for a 3 p.m. kickoff in Macomb.