He won’t approach Saturday’s game at North Dakota State any differently.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN — Youngstown State football coach Jon Heacock is getting his team ready to play its final game of the season.
This wasn’t what Heacock or the Penguins had envisioned when the campaign began as they had high hopes of a conference championship and a run in the playoffs.
Instead the Penguins (5-5, 3-4 Missouri Valley Conference) head into their final game when they travel to meet North Dakota State (3-7, 2-5) Saturday in a 2 p.m. kickoff in the Fargodome in Fargo, N.D.
Last Saturday the Penguins snapped a three-game losing streak with a 30-18 win over Illinois State on Senior Day at Stambaugh Stadium. Heacock said the win was a big lift to the Penguins.
“I thought their mood was very good this week in practice,” he said. “This team has played and competed all season long. Yes, sometimes better than others, but they’ve competed each week.
“Last week we didn’t turn the football over and that was the key,” he said. “We still did some things that have hurt us in the past like a blocked punt and a blocked field goal, but we still pulled out the win.
“Now we’re sitting here 5-5 with the opportunity to get that sixth win.”
Heacock again lauded his senior players for the effort they’ve put forth all season long.
“Everything they do now is for the last time,” he said. “Today’s practice will be their last on that day and for them this is the end. For the rest of the team it’s another beginning.
“Last week when we held the senior breakfast for the players and their families, I talked with several who told me their sons had been playing football since they were five and six years old and for most of them this will be the end of their football careers as a player,” Heacock said.
Heacock said although he felt this team was a good one it may not have been enough.
“You need to be a great team in order to compete for a title,” he said.
Saturday the Penguins will take on the Bison, a team they have only played four times and just twice in recent years. Last season they knocked off the Bison 32-24 at home at a time North Dakota State was ranked No. 2 in the country.
“They haven’t changed much since last year,” said Heacock. “They still like to line up and run the football and they’ve got a pretty good back to do it.
“Their top back [Pat Paschall] is the leading rusher in all of the Football Championship Division,” he added. “He’s very quick and he runs with power.
“They lost a lot of people through graduation a year ago, but they have been playing very well lately with two straight wins.
“We’ll have to be very good in every aspect of the game to win up there,” Heacock added. “We’ll have to play very good all the time.
Heacock said even though this is the season’s final game he treats it like all the rest.
“I take every game the same and try to allow our kids to play the best that they can,” he added. “My job is to get everybody organized and ready to play the best that they can.”
Heacock said the Penguins are still pretty banged up for this week’s contest.
“I don’t think that [sophomore linebacker] John Sasson or [sophomore defensive end] Josh Myers will be ready to play this week. The others will probably be a game time decision,” he said.
Heacock said he’s never been to the Fargodome, but from talking to other coaches he knows it will be a difficult place to play.
“They have a different surface than we’ve been on before, but it’s a faster surface and I’m sure the noise factor will be a great one,” he said. “But it’s going to be exciting for our kids to play there.”