The Penguins and Illinois State Redbirds have broken even in 14 meetings.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
NORMAL, Ill. -- Youngstown State finds itself in a must-win situation today when the Penguins take on Illinois State at Hancock Stadium.
The Penguins (6-2, 3-1 Gateway) trail the Redbirds (6-1, 3-0) in the standings. Another defeat and the Penguins would have little hope of a conference championship.
Northern Iowa, which knocked off the Penguins last Saturday, 31-23, is also 3-0 in the conference standings and the Panthers still have to play Illinois State in the UNI-Dome Nov. 18.
The Penguins still have Southern Illinois at home next Saturday and finish the season at Western Kentucky Nov. 11.
YSU coach Jon Heacock and his players know that they are already in a playoff situation and must keep winning for a shot at the title or at least a postseason berth.
The Penguins and Redbirds have broken even in 14 meetings. YSU won a year ago in Youngstown, 20-17, sparked by a defensive performance that saw three pass interceptions in the fourth quarter as the Penguins came from behind to win.
Illinois State has won the last two meetings at Hancock Stadium, where the Penguins are 3-4 since 1979.
YSU is 5-4 against the Redbirds since joining the Gateway Conference in 1997.
The Penguins are also trying for their first victory over a ranked opponent on the road since they beat Montana in 1999 in the I-AA playoffs. Since that time they have lost 10 straight to ranked opponents.
A YSU victory would also clinch a .500-or-better finish in the conference and mark the seventh time in 10 seasons they have won at least four GFC games in a year.
The Redbirds have won six straight games, their longest streak since winning seven in a row in 1932.
Around the Gateway
Northern Iowa will play host to Western Illinois in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Kickoff is set for 5:05 p.m.
The Panthers (5-2, 3-0) have won three straight from the Leathernecks (3-5, 0-4), but Western has won twice in its last three trips to the UNI-Dome. UNI leads the series 23-11.
Western Kentucky (4-3, 3-1) will celebrate homecoming by entertaining Indiana State (1-7, 1-3) in a 5 p.m. kickoff in Bowling Green, Ky.
The Sycamores ended a 24-game losing streak last week against Missouri State, but the Hilltoppers have won 10 straight games in this series, including a 38-28 win a year ago.
Missouri State (1-7, 0-4) is hoping that a homecoming crowd will help the Bears snap their conference losing streak against Southern Illinois (5-2, 2-2).
The teams kick off at 2:30 p.m. in Springfield, Mo. The Salukis have won three straight against the Bears, including a 30-23 overtime win a year ago.