Missouri State (3-3, 1-2 Gateway) was known as Southwest Missouri until a name change in August.
By BILL SULLIVAN
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Missouri State football coach Randy Ball must feel that the schedule maker has something against him.
On consecutive Saturdays this year the Bears were scheduled at Western Kentucky and at Youngstown State.
Combined, the two Gateway Conference teams are 11-2 overall, both are 3-0 in the league and each are ranked in the 15 of the country this week.
It can't get much tougher at the I-AA level.
Missouri State (3-3, 1-2 Gateway Conference) played well at top-ranked Western Kentucky (5-1) last Saturday but still dropped a 37-28 decision.
For Saturday's 4 p.m. start at Stambaugh Stadium, the Bears will be the homecoming guest of the Penguins (6-1). YSU is 47-16-1 in homecoming games in the past.
"A lot of people don't understand how difficult the Gateway Conference is," Ball said.
"I liken our schedule to a I-A team playing Texas, Alabama and Virginia Tech. Then this week they play Tennessee. And, three of the four games are on the road."
Earlier this year the Bears played at Southern Illinois, top-ranked at the time.
Last Saturday, Missouri St. twice pulled within two points of Western Kentucky (5-1, 3-0) in the fourth quarter but eventually fell 37-28.
Trailing 23-7, the Bears got an 18-yard touchdown pass from Scott Carroll to Calvin Nealy. The two-point conversion closed the gap to 23-15.
Mike Radon of the Bears then picked up a Hilltopper fumble and returned it 48 yards and a touchdown.
A two-point conversion failed, leaving the Hilltoppers on top 23-21.
After Western Kentucky registered another touchdown, Carroll clicked on a 42-yard scoring aerial to Kaya Farris with four minutes remaining to make it 30-28.
Change at the top
Carroll, a transfer from Purdue, is now playing quarterback for the Bears. He's replacing senior A.J. Porter.
Entering this season, Porter was 244-for-452 passing for 3,203 yards for the Bears.
"Scott [Carroll] has given us some intangibles [at quarterback] that A.J. didn't have," Ball explained of the switch.
Ball has seen his college change its name (from Southwest Missouri State in August this year) and has witnessed the Bears' luck against the Penguins. YSU won the initial eight meetings of the series until 2004 when the Penguins fell, 34-28.
Now, the Bears must win out to have a hope at the I-AA playoffs -- something they haven't seen since 1990.
One consistent thing he's seen is a strong running game at Youngstown State.
"I liken them to the late 90's when they were playing real well and not beating themselves," Ball said of the Penguins.
"They stretch you out on defense and they can run the ball so well. You are going to have to play near-perfect to win there."