NORMAL — Matt Brown’s desperation heave cleared by inches the leaping reach of two Youngstown State defenders stationed inside the 5-yard line.
Tyrone Walker only saw the football. And when Illinois State’s sophomore receiver secured that football, he snapped a miraculous Redbird victory into focus.
“Matt just threw it up and gave me a chance. I saw the ball perfectly. I didn’t even know there was anyone there,” Walker said. “Once I got my hands on the ball, I was shocked.”
That shock reverberated through the Youngstown State sideline as Walker’s 40-yard catch with seven-tenths of a second remaining carried ISU to a highly improbable 41-39 win before a Family Day crowd of 10,076 at Hancock Stadium.
“Brown’s got a great arm, and if it’s close Tyrone is going to come down with the football,” Redbirds’ coach Brock Spack said. “He’s got real long arms and strong hands.”
ISU evened its record at 5-5 while closing out its Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule at 4-4.
The Penguins (3-7, 1-6) had an elusive win in sight when quarterback Kurt Hess capped a 96-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown run at the 27-second mark.
“Doubt was creeping in my mind a little bit,” Brown said. “You’ve always got to have faith in things, think good things are going to happen to you. We just had the will to win.”
Marvon Sanders, who matched a school record with 14 receptions, reeled in a spectacular catch of a pass from Brown along the sideline for a 39-yard gain to put the Redbirds within hailing distance of the end zone for Walker.
“When that ball goes in the air, the offensive player makes a decision that it’s his ball,” Penguins’ coach Eric Wolford said. “The defensive player makes a decision if it’s his ball or not. We’ve been on the short end of the stick when it comes to that situation.”
Brown and Walker both enjoyed career days.
Walker matched his best effort with nine catches while setting a new standard with 206 yards receiving (fifth best in school history) and three scores. Brown set a personal high with five touchdown passes while completing 29 of 37 for 390 yards.
“They hooked up a lot,” said Spack. “The yards after catch had to be ridiculous with 12 (Walker). Every time I looked up he was making somebody miss or breaking a tackle.”
ISU took a 14-10 edge into halftime on Brown TD tosses of 28 yards to Matt Younger and 44 yards to Walker.
A 45-yard scoring connection to Walker was followed by a 1-yard plunge by Youngstown tailback Jamaine Cook, who finished with 213 yards on 43 carries.
Brown connected with Marcus King for a 13-yard touchdown. King then smothered a punt from the Penguins’ Nick Liste, who paid dearly for bobbling the ball.
Jake Detmers, like King a Normal Community High School product, scooped up the bouncing ball at the 2-yard line for the score and a 35-17 Redbird advantage.
Youngstown battled back with a 7-yard scoring pass from Hess to Cook. The Penguins pulled within 35-32 on a 16-yard Cook jaunt and a two-point conversion pass to Kevin Watts with 6:33 remaining.
ISU piled up 488 yards of offense. But Youngstown gained 523 and ran a whopping 98 plays from scrimmage, 39 more than the Redbirds.