Western rewind: Last-second loss reveals plenty of gains for winless Leathernecks

Western allowed standout Youngstown State running back Jaleel McLaughlin to rush for a school record-tying 207 yards. (Photo by YSUsports.com)

By Barry Bottino

MACOMB – Myers Hendrickson ticked off a long list of what his Western Illinois football team did better Saturday against Youngstown State.

Fewer penalties than an opponent. Winning the turnover battle, 2-1. Rushing for a season-high 170 yards. A blocked punt by defensive lineman Brian Bruce, the program’s first since 2019. Scoring three times on three visits to the red zone.

“We’re seeing a ton of progress in the areas we talked about addressing,” said Hendrickson, the Leathernecks’ first-year head coach.

What Western did not see, however, was its first victory of the season.

WIU (0-7 overall, 0-4 Missouri Valley Football Conference) surrendered a 10-point lead with 3 minutes, 9 seconds remaining and lost on a field goal on the game’s final play, 28-27.

“It’s a tough one,” said WIU senior wide receiver Naseim Brantley, who caught two TD passes in the final 7:13 to extend the lead to 27-17. “But this is a time where we have to come back together and execute on the errors we made today so we can win games like this.”

After Brantley’s second TD catch, a leaping 5-yard grab in the corner of the south end zone, YSU answered right back. Bryce Oliver got behind the Western secondary for a 40-yard scoring catch only 40 seconds later. A botched snap on the PAT kick led to holder Trenton Gillison throwing for a two-point conversion, closing Western’s lead to 27-25.

Brantley recovered an onside kick, but Western’s offense went three and out in 1:38. The Penguins, led by standout running back Jaleel McLaughlin’s 207 yards rushing, gained 58 yards in five plays after taking over with 50 seconds to go.

McLaughlin picked up eight yards on his final carry to set up Colt McFadden’s 42-yard field goal that won the game as time expired.

Last season, Western beat the Penguins, 38-35, on a last-second Mason Laramie field goal.

“We played, by far, our best complimentary football we’ve played,” Hendrickson said. “We did not put it all together, but we’re putting it together.”

Brantley, who caught five passes for 56 yards, said he learned plenty about his teammates Saturday at Hanson Field.

“This shows our fight,” he said. “We played all four quarters, never giving up.”

Game changers

4:06, 4th quarter: True freshman Ryan Crandall’s interception and 32-yard return – plus a YSU unsportsmanlike conduct penalty – set Western up at the YSU 21.

3:09, 4th quarter: Brantley caught his second TD of the game to give Western a 10-point lead.

2:29, 4th quarter: Oliver got behind the WIU defense for a 40-yard TD catch.

What it means

Though disappointing for the team, Saturday’s loss gave the Leathernecks some confidence that they can hang with MVFC opponents for four quarters.

Nifty ‘Necks

Prairie State Pigskin chooses the top three Leatherneck players in the game:

Brantley: With two more receiving TDs, he now has eight for the season, which is the third-most among all FCS players.

Erin Collins, RB: The senior nearly doubled his rushing total from the previous six games by rushing for a team-high 71 yards on 10 carries.

Crandall: Along with a key interception, Crandall piled up 10 tackles and recovered a fumble while starting in place of injured teammate Anthony Quinney.

What’s next?

Western travels to Missouri State for a 2 p.m. game Oct. 29 at Missouri State.

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