Penguins rebound at home

I’d like to congratulate all the Youngstown State fans who showed up Saturday for the Penguins’ final home football game.

It was a great afternoon for football — warm and sunny. And the Penguins allowed everybody to go home happy with their 30-18 victory over Illinois State.

It was a great tribute to the 12 seniors who were playing for the final time at Stambaugh Stadium. It would have been nice if more could have gotten there a little earlier when the seniors were announced to the crowd, but you were there when it counted.

It has been a long, disappointing season for the Penguins, especially for the seniors who had visions of much better things than a 5-5 record and a 3-4 mark in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

But for at least one afternoon in the Ice Castle, things went the way the Penguins had scripted it.

When asked just what was the difference between Saturday’s Penguins and the ones who had played the previous three weeks, coach Jon Heacock was straight forward with his answer.

“The difference was that we weren’t playing the No. 1, No. 4 or No. 9 ranked team in the country,” he said.

YSU had lost to highly-ranked Southern Illinois, South Dakota State and Northern Iowa the three previous games.

“Who you play has a lot to do with the outcome,” Heacock said.

But Saturday it was all about the seniors so Heacock noted when someone asked him what the win meant to him.

“Today was all about the seniors. This was their week and our job and all the underclassmen’s jobs was to do everything that we could to make this a great week and a great game.”

Saturday, the seniors were outstanding on both sides of the football.

Senior quarterback Brandon Summers played like everybody expected him to all season long. The Penguins ran the ball and passed the ball like everyone knew they were capable of doing.

I think that senior linebacker Draye Ersery, a transfer from Colorado Springs, Colo., probably summed up the Penguins’ day best of all.

Ersery has been either hurt or in a backup role for most of the season. But Saturday, he was in the starting lineup and played a great game with a career-high 11 tackles.

“We just couldn’t wait to get out on the field today,” Ersery said. “There has been no point in the season when I’ve seen the excitement in our locker room after the games. I even saw guys who don’t even get along too well shaking hands after the game.

“We went out there today and played for nobody but ourselves. We were only concerned with the guy next to you for the entire 60 minutes,” he added.

The Penguins have one game remaining on the schedule and that comes this Saturday when they play at North Dakota State in Fargo, N.D. Kickoff for that contest will be at 2 p.m.

The Penguins and Bison have only met three times previously. Last year, the Penguins upended a highly-touted North Dakota State team 32-24 in Youngstown. The last time the Penguins were in Fargo was in 1972 when a guy named Ron Jaworski was the starting quarterback and the Bison won that game 16-10.

Following Saturday’s game, you probably will see considerable changes coming for the football program. More than likely, Heacock won’t be retained. One playoff berth in nine seasons just doesn’t cut it in Youngstown where the fans were spoiled with the team’s great run of the 1990s.

Even though Heacock had a major role in those glory years, the fans only remember what he’s done the last nine. Even 60 wins over those last nine years (which is what he’ll have if he beats North Dakota State) probably won’t be enough to save his job.

There is a lot more in coaching than just wins and losses, but unfortunately those are the only two things that really count.

XPete Mollica covers YSU athletics for The Vindicator. Write to him at

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