(STATS) - The FCS Kickoff had always matched two nationally ranked teams, but Saturday's sixth annual season-opening showcase didn't have any.
Youngstown State apparently wants back in the rankings.
The Penguins took the first step toward what they hope will be a bounce-back season by roaring past Samford 45-22 at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama.
YSU (1-0) dominated time of possession, using a 277-yard ground game and forcing four turnovers to hold the ball for 41 minutes, 27 seconds.
The Penguin last beat Samford to open a 2016 FCS playoff run that ended with them finishing as the national runner-up, but coach Bo Pelini's program was a combined 10-11 over the last two seasons, including 4-7 a year ago while facing injuries to key players.
One of the injured, quarterback Nathan Mays returned to open his fifth-year senior season with 214 yards of total offense (124 passing and 90 rushing) and first-half touchdown passes to Samuel St. Surin (16 yards) and Josh Burgett (4).
The Penguins didn't trail after Cash Mitchell returned a fumble by Samford starting quarterback Liam Welch 26 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter, providing a 14-7 lead as part of 31 unanswered points.
Braxton Chapman had two 1-yard touchdown runs and Christian Turner (89 yards) added a 3-yarder.
In addition to Mitchell's takeaway, the Penguins intercepted Welch three times - Vanderbilt transfer Zaire Jones with a pair and John Harper. Defensive end Justus Reed, who was a medical redshirt last season, had 1½ sacks for the Missouri Valley Football Conference squad.
The Penguins improved to 5-0 all-time against Southern Conference power Samford (0-1), which has posted eight straight winning seasons - the longest streak in program history - but was playing for the first time in four years without all-time FCS passing yardage leader, Devlin Hodges, the 2018 STATS FCS Walter Payton Award recipient. In his first career start, Welch had the four miscues, but he also completed 13 of 22 pass for 142 yards, highlighted by a 55-yard touchdown pass to Robert Adams to open the scoring.
South Florida transfer Chris Oladokun relieved Welch in the fourth quarter and made a case for the starting job. He threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to Montrell Washington and scored on a 10-yard run as part of his 139 total yards, adding a two-point conversion.
With the Samford defense on the field so much, linebackers John Staton and Jaleel Laguins reached double figures in tackles with 12 and 10, respectively.
Samford jumps right back into action next Saturday with a trip to Tennessee Tech. Youngstown State next hosts Howard on Sept. 7 in the first of a three-game homestand.
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