Story and photo courtesy of Illinois State Athletics
NORMAL, Ill. – Quarterback Matt Brown’s one-yard touchdown run with 2:44 remaining capped a streak of 28 unanswered points for No. 14 Illinois State, as the Redbirds (6-1, 3-1 MVFC) came back from a 28-7 deficit against No. 8 Youngstown State to knock off the Penguins (4-2, 1-2 MVFC), 35-28, Saturday afternoon at Hancock Stadium.
Brown’s game-winning score was set up when Brown threw a lateral to wide receiver Phil Dudley, who fired a 50-yard pass to Lechein Neblett that put the Redbirds at the YSU two-yard line. Brown scored three plays later, while Colton Underwood sealed the victory with a fourth-down sack of YSU quarterback Kurt Hess on the ISU 26 yard-line with 1:06 remaining.
After surrendering touchdowns on the Penguins’ first four possessions en route to the 21-point deficit, the Illinois State defense stiffened, holding YSU scoreless over its last eight possessions. Underwood led all players with 11 tackles and added a sack and three tackles-for-loss, while Mike Zimmer recorded 10 tackles, his fourth double-digit tackle game this season.
Down 28-7 with the first half winding down, the Redbirds cut into the deficit with an eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive that culminated in an eight-yard touchdown pass from Brown to Neblett. On third down, Brown found James O'Shaughnessy with a 29-yard pass, a career-high for the ISU tight end. After a 27-yard completion to Donovan Harden got the Redbirds inside the 10-yard line, Brown avoided the YSU pressure before finding Neblett in the right side of the end zone to make the score 28-14 heading into the break.
The touchdown pass was the 63rd of Brown’s career, moving him in to sole possession of first place on the program’s all-time touchdown passes list. Brown added two more passing scores to finish the day with 65 career touchdown passes.
The Redbirds continued their comeback on the first possession of the second half, scoring on a nine-play, 66-yard drive that ended with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Brown to Harden. Brown used his legs again to avoid the pressure on third down before finding Harden, this time in the left side of the end zone, to bring the Redbirds within seven at 28-21.
With the Penguins driving on the next series, the Redbird defense buckled down. Evan Frierson recorded a sack, before Underwood secured a tackle-for-loss on Hess to set up third-and-long. On third down, Hess could not connect on a deep pass that was defended by Ben Ericksen and Dominic Clarke. The Penguins elected to go for it on fourth down, completing a pass, but ending up one yard shy of the marker to give ISU the ball back.
After being held scoreless for two possessions entering the fourth quarter, Brown fired his third touchdown pass of the game to even the game at 28-28. After completing a third-down pass to Harden and being roughed on the play to put the Redbirds in the red zone, Brown found Tyrone Walker with a 14-yard strike to even the score at 28-28.
After the Redbird defense forced a three-and-out to give ISU the ball back, Brown and Harden misconnected on a throw out wide that was ruled a lateral. The Penguins pounced on the loose ball, giving them possession on the ISU 41-yard line. However, Shelby Harris stuffed Jamaine Cook on third down before Hess misfired on fourth down to give the Redbirds the ball back with 5:51 remaining, setting up the eventual game-winning drive.
The Penguins got off to an early 14-0 lead, as Cook scored on a seven-yard rushing touchdown on the game’s first series, while Hess found Kintrell Disher with a two-yard touchdown pass on the Penguin’s next possession to put them up 14-0.
Freshman Marshaun Coprich provided the Redbirds the spark they needed to get the offense going, returning the ensuing kickoff 42 yards to the Redbirds’ 49-yard line. Brown found Harden with a 22-yard completion on third down to keep the drive alive before Darrelynn Dunn converted his second carry of the game into an 11-yard touchdown run, cutting the YSU lead in half at 14-7.
The Penguins responded, however, with 14 more unanswered points on two more touchdown runs by Cook. The YSU senior capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive with his second touchdown of the afternoon before scoring again on a 14-yard scamper to give the Penguins a 28-7 lead with 9:41 remaining in the second quarter.
The 21-point deficit tied the Redbirds’ biggest come-from-behind victory of all-time. ISU last overcame a three-score deficit on Oct. 23, 1999 at Southern Illinois, winning 55-48.
Illinois State concludes its three-game home stand next week against Missouri State, with kickoff set for 1 p.m.