By Rob Todor
The YSU coach is 0-7 against Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley.
Jon Heacock and Mark Farley became head coaches for the first time in 2001. Since then, Farley’s Northern Iowa program has rolled nothing but sevens against Youngstown State.
Heacock’s Penguins have come up snake eyes every year, going 0-7 against Farley and the Panthers.
Youngstown State (2-6, 1-3 Missouri Valley Football Conference) will roll the dice again Saturday, playing host to the No. 4-ranked Panthers (5-2, 3-1) in the homecoming game at Stambaugh Stadium.
Heacock couldn’t pinpoint why Northern Iowa and Farley have had the Penguins’ number the last seven seasons.
“I wish I knew,” he said. “It probably has something to do with the people they have.
“We’ve had a couple shots at them. There have been some good games, right down to the wire, we just haven’t made the final play to make a difference.”
Last year in Cedar Falls, Iowa, the Penguins took a 13-0 lead into the fourth quarter before Northern Iowa, then ranked No. 1, rallied to win, 14-13.
Receiver Johnny Gray scored both touchdowns for the Panthers, a 29-yard pass from quarterback Eric Sanders and, with 4:54 remaining in the game, on an 18-yard reverse.
Two other games since 2001 have been decided by eight points or less.
“It’s obviously been a little bit disappointing, or a lot,” Heacock said.
The loss last season dropped the Penguins’ record to 5-4 and effectively out of contention for a playoff berth.
They face that same scenario this season, but with four games still to be played.
“In all fairness that loss has put us in a tough situation,” Heacock said. “The reality is we’re playing the No. 4 team in the country this week. We’ve got four more football games, five weeks of football left.
“[We’re] trying to take those parts that we have, the seniors that are still in there fighting and playing and working the pride aspect and trying to find a way to have success throughout the rest of the season,” Heacock said.
“It doesn’t get really a whole bunch more complicated, other than just the fact that our guys trying to have success for our players, especially our seniors.”
The Penguins’ biggest obstacle, of course, has been injuries. Twenty-three players have missed at least one game — tight end Derrick Bush and receiver Ferlando Williams are the latest casualties, and have been ruled out of Saturday’s game — and inconsistency at quarterback because of injury and player defection.
A true freshman will start under center against Northern Iowa, either Dailyn Campbell, who started last week’s game but was injured midway through, or Hubbard’s Marc Kanetsky.
Kanetsky would be YSU’s fifth different quarterback to start this season.
“It is reality; it is difficult,” said Heacock about the injuries. “You can’t spend all your time with what you don’t have, you’ve got to spend it all with what you do have.
“That’s the challenge as a football coach, is to go the staff room on Sunday night and Monday night and get the training room report and see where you are and what parts you have and then put the best plan possible together with the parts that you have.
“That’s all you ever try to do, whether you were 2-6 or 6-2 or whatever, you’re still taking the parts you have and putting the best plan together that allows that group of folks to have success.”
Adding to that frustration is inconsistent play by players who have been able to stay in the lineup.
“We’re looking for consistency in our execution throughout the game,” Heacock said. “The guys that have been playing all along, you expect them to play well and keep improving. We do at times and we don’t at times.
Still Heacock likes the approach of his team.
“They’re, I’m sure, frustrated and disappointed,” he said. “The reality of losing some players you can’t help but be a little bit. But I think there’s great resolve and character in this group.
“The group that is still playing wants to play to win. they’re not practicing just to practice. They’re competitive guys that believe they can win. I don’t believe any of that ever changes.
“There’s some realism but I also think the other reality is that they all believe they can make a difference during the game.”