Redbird rewind: ISU playoff chances dealt severe blow via last-second defeat

Redshirt freshman Tommy Rittenhouse scored both Illinois State touchdowns Saturday. (Photo by

By Dan Verdun

In a pivotal game for both teams, Youngstown State’s last-second shocker chilled Illinois State much like the strong winds that buffeted Hancock Stadium Saturday afternoon.

Despite heading into that strong wind with no timeouts, the Penguins drove 80 yards in a minute and one second to score the game-winning touchdown.

YSU quarterback Mitch Davidson — who had left the game earlier with an injury — tossed a 12-yard touchdown pass to Bryce Oliver with five seconds remaining to lift the Penguins (6-3 overall, 4-2 Missouri Valley) to a 19-17 victory over the Redbirds (5-4, 3-3).

The game-winner was the only scoring play of the second half.

Bryce Oliver (Photo by

“Unbelievable circumstances,” Illinois State head coach Brock Spack said afterward on WJBC Radio. “We had multiple chances. There are multiple things you can point at in that game . . . That last play of the game, it didn’t lose the game for us.”

Redshirt freshman Tommy Rittenhouse made his first career start for ISU in place of Zack Annexstad, who injured his shoulder in last week’s loss at North Dakota State.

“He was very poised and didn’t seem frazzled at all,” Spack said of Rittenhouse. “He played well enough for us to win the game.”

On his first snap from scrimmage, Rittenhouse scored on a 42-yard run. He rushed for both ISU touchdowns.

“I’ve got to be ready at all times, especially this week,” Rittenhouse said. “It’s the next man up mentality. Whoever is in there, you’ve just got to run with it.”

Youngstown State running back Jaleel McLaughlin ran for a game-high 95 yards, the first time this season the senior did not go over the 100-yard mark against an FCS opponent.

“For a little guy, he runs real hard,” ISU linebacker Kenton Wilhoit said of the 5-foot-9, 183-pound McLaughlin. “He’s really good at the point on contact.”

Game changers

:52, 4th quarter: Receiver Max Tomczak, a Lincoln-Way East graduate and nephew of former Chicago Bears QB Mike Tomczak, caught a 31-yard pass down the middle. The play advanced YSU to the Illinois State 49-yard line.

:35, 4th quarter: Davidson scrambled to his left for a 13-yard gain. A tacked-on holding penalty against ISU defensive back Deandre Lamont moved the ball to the Redbird 26.

:05, 4th quarter: Oliver, who played three seasons at Kentucky before transferring to Youngstown State, caught the game-winner just inside the left pylon.

What it means

The loss dealt a severe blow to Illinois State’s playoff chances. Meanwhile, Youngstown State has won four straight games and is very much in the postseason picture.

Best ‘Birds

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

Rittenhouse: The Wheaton St. Francis product ran for 81 yards and passed for 103 yards.

Daniel Sobkowicz, WR: The Rolling Meadows High School graduate, another redshirt freshman, had 10 catches for 96 yards — both career bests.

Wilhoit: The junior had five tackles and two sacks.

What’s next?

The Redbirds travel to No. 1-ranked South Dakota State for a Nov. 12 league game.

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