The Penguins are underdogs to the McNeese State Cowboys.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- It's been some time since the Youngstown State football team has gone up against a nationally ranked opponent as early as the second game of the season.
Tonight the Penguins, ranked No. 8 in the Sports Network poll, will play host to No. 6 McNeese State in one of the biggest games in I-AA this weekend.
The last time the Penguins played a ranked opponent this early in the season was in 1994. That year the Penguins opened the campaign against No. 13 Stephen F. Austin and the teams played to a 10-10 deadlock.
That was the only blemish on an otherwise perfect season for the Penguins, who won their next 14 straight, including the I-AA national championship game against Boise State, 28-14.
The Penguins, who opened the season with a 27-14 victory over Div. II Clarion a week ago, will come into the home contest as underdogs to the Cowboys, who routed No. 10 ranked Grambling State 52-20 in their season opener.
The Penguins hold a 2-1 advantage over McNeese State in their three previous meetings. The series began in 1994 with the Penguins winning 28-8 at Stambaugh Stadium. The Cowboys got their revenge the following year at Lake Charles, La., 31-3, and the third meeting came in 1997 in the I-AA national championship game in Chattanooga, Tenn., which the Penguins won 10-9.
The same sort of game is expected tonight as both teams employ staunch running games and strong defenses.
"I don't know what the outcome will be, but I knew it should be a pretty quick game," said YSU coach Jon Heacock.
Six of the other seven Gateway Conference teams will be in action. Only Western Illinois is idle this week.
Northern Iowa, the defending Gateway champion and ranked No. 3, will be tested tonight at 7:05 when it travels to Stillwater, Okla., to take on Oklahoma State.
The last time these two teams met in 1990 the Panthers gave the Cowboys all they could handle before losing 33-23.
Southwest Missouri State, 1-0 but unranked, gets a good test today when it travels to Hampton, Va., to take on No. 24 Hampton at 1:30 p.m. It will be the first meeting between the teams.
No. 18 Western Kentucky, a 48-3 loser last week to Kansas State, will hold its home opener tonight against Div. II Kentucky State. Last year the Hilltoppers rolled to a 48-0 win and lead the series 3-0.
Indiana State and Illinois State, both big losers to I-A opponents last week, will step down to meet Div. II opposition this week.
The Sycamores, a 48-17 loser to Western Michigan, will host Cumberland tonight in the first meeting between the teams, while the Redbirds, who were blitzed 51-10 by Purdue, plays host to Quincy.
Southern Illinois, a 78-0 winner over Kentucky Wesleyan last week, will play host to Southeast Missouri State.