By Joe Scalzo
With less than three minutes left in Saturday’s FCS national championship game and the North Dakota State Bison putting the finishing touches on their first title, Youngstown State coach Eric Wolford was asked how he was feeling.
“I’m standing here [ticked off], I guess,” he said.
Because your team should be there?
“Yeah,” he said. “Wouldn’t you be?”
On Nov. 12, the Bison suffered their only loss of the season to Youngstown State — at home on Senior Day, no less — before running off six straight victories, including five in the postseason. NDSU, which won five Division II titles before moving up, became the first Missouri Valley Football Conference team to win a national title since Western Kentucky in 2002.
The Bison have been league members since 2008.
“I’m happy for North Dakota State and happy as heck for Coach [Craig] Bohl and our conference,” Wolford said. “It gives our conference some national recognition. I don’t think people realize how strong it is.
“You’ve got good teams and you’ve got to be able to travel. You’re not just hopping on a bus and driving an hour or two down the road.”
The Bison led YSU 21-10 late in the second half of this year’s game before falling 27-24. The only other team to score more than 21 against NDSU this season was Big Ten-member Minnesota, which lost 37-24 on Sept. 24.
“We’re able to score points and that’s the name of the game,” said Wolford, whose team led the conference with 36.2 points per game. “We had a run-pass balance and we were multiple. You can’t line up in the spread the whole time.
“We’ve been able to recruit a lot of good players at a lot of different positions and that kind of versatility pays off against teams like them.”
The MVFC had two playoff teams, with Northern Iowa falling to Montana in the second round. The Penguins were headed for a playoff berth before falling to Missouri State in the regular season finale.
“I already know our team is upset about” watching North Dakota State make its run, Wolford said. “They discussed it openly before we left for the break.
“They know the expectations here and they know where we should be. This team does not need any extra motivation.”
Their Twitter accounts back him up, with wide receiver Kevin Watts tweeting, “I’m a little bitter and jealous right now. I’m not OK with us settling for beating the #1 team in the nation. Yea we beat them but they’ve still got a ring comin.”
Added safety Josh Garner, “We gon see how Wolf reacts when we poor that water on him next year.”
YSU’s men’s basketball team has gotten a recruiting boost the past two years with the success of Horizon League-member Butler, which went to back-to-back national championship games. The Penguins were the last team to beat the Bulldogs last season before the national final.
That could happen in football, too.
“It gives us credibility but it’s a situation where you can say you can come here and legitimately win a national championship,” said Wolford. “North Dakota State won how many national championships in Division II before moving up? That’s a school where you can expect to win.
“There’s a lot of schools in Ohio that, quite frankly, can’t win a national championship. How many in Pennsylvania can honestly say that, right now, in this day and age? Youngstown State has done it before and we expect to do it again.”