MONTGOMERY – Youngstown State defense forced four turnovers and the offense scored on four of its first six possessions to post a 45-22 win over Samford in the sixth annual Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff Classic at the historic Cramton Bowl.
Youngstown State (1-0) recorded three interceptions and recovered one fumble in its season-opening win. The Penguins converted two of the four turnovers into touchdowns, including a 26-yard scoop and score by senior weak side linebacker Cash Mitchell to give YSU a 14-7 lead in the first quarter.
Junior strong safety Zaire Jones recorded two interceptions, while defensive back John Harper also recorded an interception. The three interceptions were as many as the Penguins defense recorded during the entire 2018 season. YSU only had three interceptions in 11 games last season.
While the defense created turnovers, the offense took advantage. YSU controlled the clock with 41:27 time of possession in the win. The Penguins also converted 10-of-18 third down attempts in the win.
“This is starting point for our football team.” Youngstown State head coach Bo Pelini said. “Overall, I thought we played well. We had a little lull in the third quarter and gave up two big plays on defense. For the first time out, I thought we played good football. I think we are a work in progress, but I think we have a chance to be a really good football team.”
Samford (0-1) took a brief 7-0 lead when quarterback Liam Welch threw a 55-yard touchdown pass to Montgomery native Trey Adams (Trinity) on the Bulldogs second possession of the game.
Welch completed 13-of-22 passes for 142 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions before being replaced in the second half. Adams caught four passes for 74 yards and one touchdown in his first ever game at the Cramton Bowl.
“It was nice to come home,” the former Trinity standout said. “I have played some 7-on-7 here but this was the first time I played in a game here. I was good to come home and play in front of my family.”
Trailing 7-0, Youngstown State scored on its next three possessions to take a 17-7 lead.Senior quarterback Nathan Mays threw a 16-yard pass to Samuel St. Surin to cap a 13-play, 83-yard drive to tie the game at 7-7. Following Mitchell’s defensive touchdown, sophomore kicker Colton McFadden extended the lead to 17-7 with a 43-yard field goal.
Mays closed out the half with a 4-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Josh Burgett to give the Penguins a 24-7 halftime lead.
Mays finished with 214 total yards for the Penguins. He completed 10-of-18 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran 13 times for 90 yards.
Both teams sputtered on offense in the third quarter, before an explosive final 15 minutes.
Youngstown State scored on three straight possessions in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
Sophomore tailback Braxton Chapman scored on a 1-yard run 14:29 left in the game to extend the lead to 31-7.
Samford made a change at quarterback and junior Chris Oladokun sparked the Bulldogs with a pair of scoring drives. On his third play from scrimmage, he fired a 64-yard touchdown pass to Montrell Washington. Oladokun then ran for the 2-point conversion to cut the lead to 31-15.
“We competed well,” Samford head coach Chris Hatcher said. “We did not quit. We turned the ball over four times. We did not tackle very well. We had a hard time getting off the field on that side of the ball and that makes for a long afternoon against a team that controlled the clock.”
Washington, who finished with two catches for 80 yards and one TD, also provided a spark on special teams. He had five kick returns for 117 yards.
Youngstown State answered with an 8-minute drive, capped by Chapman second 1-yard touchdown of the quarter to extend the lead to 38-15. Chapman had 11 carries for 50 yards and two TDs in the win.
Oladokun then scored on a 10-yard run with just over three minutes left to trim the deficit to 38-22.
Oladokun completed 7-of-10 passes for 126 yards and one TD off the bench. He also had five carries for 14 yards and one TD.
Youngstown State closed out the scoring with a 3-yard run by junior tailback Christian Turner with just over two minutes to play.
The 45 points scored are the second-most points scored in the history of the FCS Kickoff Classic. No. 1 Eastern Washington holds the record in it 56-35 win over No. 17 Sam Houston State in 2014.