Bad call blows shot at history

By Gus Bode

Records, shutout compromised by controversial call

YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO – The giant, scowling Penguin in the middle of Stambaugh Stadium looked a bit angrier than usual at the end of Saturday’s game – and it had plenty of reason to be upset.

Saturday’s game was unlike anything any had ever seen before.


Youngstown State not only lost 37-2 to SIU Saturday, it tied a record for the worst home defeat in the school’s illustrious 67-year history. The only other games the Youngstown faithful saw as bad as Saturday’s was in 1986 and 1968.

It would have been the worst beating in school history, but a friendly call from the referee gave the Penguins their only two points and robbed the Salukis of their place in Youngstown infamy.

In the middle of the fourth quarter, SIU was deep in its own territory and ran a screen that instantly fell apart. Joel Sambursky backed up to the two-yard line and threw the ball away as he was being sandwiched by two defenders.

He was in the pocket, thus making it intentional grounding, but somehow the referees came to the conclusion that Sambursky was in the end zone. There was a long conference, yet, as the replay on the scoreboard showed, every single one of them missed the call.

The referee picked up the flag, threw it in the end zone, and a safety was awarded to Youngstown State.

The sack also cost Sambursky, at least for another week, the all-time total yards record. The 13 yards he lost kept him at 4,997 yards passing and rushing for his career, 12 yards short of all-time leader Sherard Poteete’s 5,009 yards.

Sambursky was not about to form an opinion without seeing film, but he was upset at whoever caused the safety – be it himself or the referees.


“That really kind of ticks me off because the thing that I wanted for the defense, and I know that they wanted for so long, was a shutout,” said Sambursky, who was told by numerous people he was out of the end zone. “I felt in a lot of ways I took it away from them.”

The SIU defense recorded a shutout this season against lightweight Delaware State, but has never shut out a Gateway Conference team on the road. Even at home, the Salukis had not shut out a Gateway team since 1985.

“I think everyone on the team was [disheartened],” said Mark Philipp, who caused a safety of his own after sacking Penguins quarterback Tom Zetts in the end zone in the second quarter. “I wish it would have been 37-0, but I’ll take a ‘W’ over anything.”

Philipp and the rest of the defense were phenomenal despite the “blemished” record. Youngstown State had only two scoring chances, one of which was ended by an Alexis Moreland interception that preceded a 95-yard return for a touchdown. The Penguins managed a field goal attempt, but their usually solid kicker shanked it wide left.

At the post-game press conference, Youngstown State head coach Jon Heacock said he had no idea how close his 2004 team came to infamy Saturday night. He just viewed it as a home loss.

“It hurts to have any loss, and any time you lose at home it’s not good,” Heacock said.

This one could have really stung even more for Heacock and the 16,837 present to witness it. Heacock’s team, which has not lived up to the normally lofty expectations in Youngstown the last couple years, may have gone down as the worst Penguins team of all time.

But the referees had their say and the rest is history – or lack thereof.