YSU FOOTBALL Every game a must-win
The Penguins will travel to play Southern Illinois on Saturday.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- For this second time this season Youngstown State will try to rebound from a disappointing defeat.
Coach Jon Heacock knows this one will be even tougher for the Penguins since this time they must do it on the road.
Youngstown State (6-4, 4-2 Gateway Conference) will take on a dangerous Southern Illinois (1-6, 1-3) squad Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at McAndrew Stadium.
The contest game will be telecast on Fox 17/62 and broadcast on WYFM (102.9).
Last week the Penguins lost 24-14 to Western Kentucky, putting a damper on their hopes for a conference championship and automatic I-AA playoff bid. YSU is in a situation where its has to win its final three games for any hopes of a playoff berth.
Heacock said he can't worry about that.
"We have no control over the playoffs now," he said. "The only thing that we can control is us and how we play in these last three games.
"This is not going to be any picnic going to Southern Illinois to play," he continued. "They are a talented football team and they'll be even tougher at home.
The Salukis' only win was over Illinois State, 23-17. They have since lost three straight.
Past success: This will be the 13th meeting between the teams with the Penguins holding a 7-4-1 series advantage. YSU has won four of the last five meetings, but the loss is one that will be remembered.
That was last season at Stambaugh Stadium in which YSU held a 20-0 lead going into the final quarter. Southern Illinois rallied with 21 unanswered points to beat the Penguins 21-20 and ended YSU's chances of winning its first conference crown. That loss also put the Penguins on the road in the first round of the I-AA playoffs, where they lost at Richmond.
"I'm sure everybody is thinking about last year a little," said Heacock.
The Penguins spent most of this past week trying to shore up its problems.
YSU was held to just 71 yards rushing by Western Kentucky and only 168 total yards. Defensively, they allowed 265 yards on the ground.
"We still have to be able to run the football and to stop the run on defense," Heacock said.
Stepping up: Junior tailback P.J. Mays leads the Penguins and the Gateway Conference in rushing with 988 yards on 158 carries and he's scored 14 rushing touchdowns, also best in the conference.
But Mays was held to 53 yards. He is 15 yards short of becoming the 15th running back in school history to get 1,000 yards rushing in a season.
Senior quarterback Jeff Ryan, who has struggled for much of the year, has passed for 773 yards (67-of-115) and has five interceptions and five touchdowns.
Ryan had a rough time against the Salukis last year when he was sacked six times and finished with minus-50 yards rushing.
The YSU defense underestimated Western Kentucky's quickness and speed last week, according to senior linebacker Bob Sivik.
"By the time we adjusted we were down 14-0," he said.
Junior middle linebacker Jon Tekac had his career-best game last week with a team-high 16 total tackles, including three for losses. He leads the team with 51 tackles for the season.
The Penguins need to get more production from its defensive line. Junior Guy Mazard leads the front line with 23 tackles, and junior All-American candidate Matt Mechling has played only five games because of injuries and has just 14 tackles.