The Penguins have to win their final two games to stay in contention for the postseason.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- The Youngstown State football team doesn't have much choice about its future.
It's simple: Win its last two games or the season will end with the Nov. 24 game at Marshall.
Today, the Penguins play host to Elon at 1 p.m. in Stambaugh Stadium. They close out the regular season next weekend at Marshall.
The Penguins (7-2) are ranked sixth in the Sports Network I-AA poll, but that means nothing if the Penguins don't win.
Lost chance: Youngstown State lost its chance at the Gateway Conference championship and an automatic berth into the playoffs by losing games at Northern Iowa and at home to Western Kentucky.
YSU's 5-2 Gateway record will get them nothing more than a second-place tie since Northern Iowa already clinched the league crown. And Western Kentucky needs only a victory today over Southern Illinois to lock up second place.
There are a lot of possibilities that could get the Penguins into the playoffs at 8-3, but they are so slim and they have no control over them. It would require several major upsets.
Control destiny: "We know that we have only one chance and that is to win out," YSU coach Jon Heacock said. "We can't control what anybody else does now, we can only control what we do the rest of the way."
Elon (2-8) has played the toughest schedule in I-AA. It is possible that seven of the Phoenix's opponents could be in the I-AA playoffs.
Northern Iowa and YSU are the only two Gateway teams which have finished conference play.
The Panthers clinched the title last week with their stunning, come-from-behind 24-23 win over Western Kentucky on a final field goal in the closing seconds. They finished 6-1, while Western Kentucky is 4-2.
Scenario: A Western Kentucky victory today over Southern Illinois would assure it of the No. 2 spot in the Gateway standings and the conference's second spot in the playoffs, unless the Penguins win out and post a 9-2 mark. In that case, the Penguins would have a better overall record than the Hilltoppers, who can finish at 8-3 at best.
Southern Illinois has played well for a team at 1-8. The Hilltoppers lead the series 6-3 and posted a 22-0 win a year ago.
Two other Gateway conference games are on tap today, neither involving teams going anywhere.
Southwest Missouri State (5-5, 2-4 Gateway) plays host to Illinois State (2-8, 2-4 Gateway). The Redbirds won a year ago 40-7, but Southwest Missouri leads the series 11-9-1.
Western Illinois (4-5, 3-3 Gateway) travels to Indiana State (3-7, 2-4 Gateway), in the season finale for both teams.
The series is deadlocked at 12-12, but the Leathernecks ripped the Sycamores 49-7 a year ago.
Northern Iowa closes out its season against Cal-Poly today at the UNIDome. The Panthers could have problems, as they struggled to beat Cal-Poly 43-41 a year ago.