The Penguins must beat Southern Illinois today and win their final two games to make the playoffs.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The Youngstown State football team is set to begin what it hopes will be the start of a season-ending three-game sweep to the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs.
The Penguins (6-2, 4-2 Gateway Conference) take on Southern Illinois in a 1:30 p.m. kickoff today at McAndrews Field. The game is being televised on Fox 17/62.
YSU is ranked No. 10 in the Sports Network national poll and No. 11 in the USA Today/ESPN poll. The Penguins need victories in their final three games to assure them of a spot in the playoffs.
Week off: Following today's contest, the Penguins get a much-needed week off as they have an open date Nov. 10. They return to action at home on Nov. 17 against Elon, which was substituted in the schedule when Wofford asked out of its contract in order to play a game at South Carolina.
The Penguins finish the season on Nov. 24 at Division I-A Marshall, also an addition to the schedule, when the Penguins' Sept. 15 game at Toledo was canceled due to the terrorist attack on Sept. 11. The Penguins and Toledo were unable to reschedule the contest.
Today's contest will have a revenge factor for the Penguins, who last season blew a 20-0 third-quarter lead to the Salukis and lost 21-20 in a game that cost YSU the Gateway Conference championship.
The Salukis (1-6, 1-4) have won only once this season. YSU leads the overall series between the teams 7-4 and has won four of the last five meetings.
The last time the two teams played here in Carbondale, the game went to overtime, with the Penguins scoring on an Adrian Brown run to win 43-37.
Near showdown: While the Penguins are struggling to make the playoffs, the two top teams in the Gateway are one week away from a showdown.
Northern Iowa (6-2, 4-1) and Western Kentucky (6-2, 3-1) both face big games this week and then will clash in a showdown on Nov. 17 at Western Kentucky.
The Panthers, who were upset a week ago in a crushing 42-14 loss to previously winless Illinois State, will host Indiana State (3-5, 2-2) today at 5:05 p.m. in the UNI-Dome.
The Sycamores are coming off two straight Gateway victories, including a 20-14 win over Southern Illinois last week. UNI defeated the Sycamores 49-17 a year ago and lead the series 14-3.
Western Kentucky is on the road against a resurgent Illinois State team in Normal, Ill., in a 2:30 p.m. kickoff. The Redbirds (1-7, 1-3) haven't met the Hilltoppers since 1992 when they posted a 23-7 victory, but WKU leads the overall series 5-2.
Other games: The other two teams in the Gateway will face non-conference opponents today.
Western Illinois (4-3, 3-3) is at No. 19-ranked Sam Houston State in Huntsville, Texas, in a 3 p.m. kickoff. The Leathernecks are still ranked No. 23 in the latest poll. They won last year's meeting 31-0, but Sam Houston leads the series 3-1-1.
Southwest Missouri State (3-5, 1-4) will entertain Drake today in a 2 p.m. kickoff in Springfield, Mo. The Bears haven't met Drake since 1982 and lead the series 4-1.