Penguins victory a beauty
Was there anything more beautiful than the defensive effort put forth by the Youngstown State football team on Saturday in Normal, Ill.?
That was the No. 3-ranked team in Division I-AA that the Penguins totally dismantled, 27-13, and the final scored wasn't even an indication as to how the Penguins dominated.
Illinois State came into the contest unbeaten and tied for first place in the Gateway Conference. The Redbirds were averaging more than 400 yards in total offense. Their top running back, Pierre Rembert, was the third leading rusher in I-AA, averaging more than 138 yards per game.
After 60 minutes of football, the Redbirds had just 161 total yards, just 18 rushing, and Rembert was held to 11 yards on 14 carries before the Redbirds finally gave up trying to run.
It was an impressive performance against a very good football team.
Illinois State coachoverwhelmed
"Nobody has been able to do to us what Youngstown State did to us this afternoon," Illinois State coach Denver Johnson said. "They totally dominated us on defense."
It was obvious from the very first series that the Penguins came to play. Illinois State ran six plays and gained 15 yards -- 22 came on a completed pass and the Redbirds were minus-7 rushing.
And it never got much better for the Redbirds (6-2, 3-1 GFC).
Now the question in everybody's mind is, what was the difference between the YSU team that manhandled Illinois State and the one that lost to Northern Iowa. Ask the coach.
"If I knew the answer to that question I'd be an awfully smart person," Jon Heacock said. "I don't know, I really don't."
Heacock assistantcredits the boss
But YSU defensive coordinator/secondary coach Mike Kolakowski believes he has a good answer for that question.
"It was Coach [Heacock]. He just took them back to basics last week, worked hard on fundamentals and that was the difference," Kolakowski said.
"The rest of it was those kids. They wanted it a little more and they worked a little harder, but they were just doing what Coach brought them along to do," he said.
And how about Kolakowski? Did he have any hand in the team's turnaround?
"I challenged them in our meeting Friday night and I told them that it was time that they started playing like men out there," he said.
"They did it -- they did it all out there today," Kolakowski said. "I'm so proud of everyone of them.
Now just what does Saturday's big win mean to the Penguins?
Northern Iowa losscreates a logjam
After Western Illinois' upset of Northern Iowa, four Gateway teams have one conference loss.
The Penguins (7-2, 4-1) and Western Kentucky are both 4-1 in the GFC, and Illinois State and Northern Iowa are both 3-1. Southern Illinois still lurking at 3-2.
YSU plays host to Southern Illinois on Saturday and finishes the regular season at Western Kentucky on Nov. 11.
Also Saturday, Western Kentucky visits Northern Iowa, and the Panthers go to Illinois State on Nov. 18.
If the Penguins win out and finish 6-1 in the Gateway, they could do no worse than tie for the conference title again. Only this time there would be just two teams involved and if Illinois State knocks off Northern Iowa, the Redbirds and Penguins would finish tied in the standings and YSU would get the automatic berth by virtue of its head-to-head win.
But as Heacock said, there is still a lot of football to be played and the Penguins can't afford to sit back and rest on their accolades.
It was a great victory. But if the Penguins don't follow it up with the same effort this week and next and get those final two wins, it won't mean nearly as much the 27 seniors who worked so hard to make it happen.
Pete Mollica covers YSU athletics for The Vindicator. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.