Penguins get shot at No. 1 Bison
YSU visits Fargodome
to meet MFVC rival
By Joe Scalzo
Last year, the Youngstown State football team traveled to North Dakota in hopes of shocking the world.
This year, the Penguins want to conquer it.
Following a 4-0 start and week off, the Penguins have a chance to seize control of the conference race, grab the nation’s No. 1 ranking and clear a path to one of the top four seeds in the FCS playoffs.
And unlike last season, they don’t consider themselves underdogs.
“Last year, it was, ‘Hey, we ain’t got nothing to lose,’ ” said YSU senior Christian Bryan, who helped the Penguins upset the Bison, 27-24, last season at the Fargodome. “Now, we’re like, ‘Look, we belong in this situation.’
“If we want to be the best, which we believe we can be, we’ve got to beat the best. Right now they’re No. 1.”
NDSU has won 18 of its last 19 games, the Bison’s lone blemish coming to YSU last season en route to their first FCS national championship. They’re ranked first in both major polls, lead the nation in total defense (204 yards per game) scoring defense (8.8 points per game) and lead the Missouri Valley in scoring offense (43.2 ppg) and total offense (469.2 ypg).
Add in the fact that they play in one of the nation’s loudest venues and are eyeing revenge for two straight home losses to the Penguins and, on paper, it’s a scary matchup.
But YSU coach Eric Wolford and his players have balanced their respect with confidence in this week’s interviews. Bryan, for instance, followed up a 60-second praise-a-thon of NDSU’s defense (typical quote “They’re everything you want in a defense”) with a quote like this: “We know we deserve to have a shot to be exactly where they are right now.”
YSU leads the all-time series 4-2 and every game has been decided by one possession.
No one expects anything different in today’s game, especially since the teams are so similar. Both like to run the ball and control the clock. Both like to control the line of scrimmage. Both want fast, athletic defenses that fly to the ball, although the Bison’s defense holds the clearest advantage through four games.
“I think some of it is they’re a program that has traditionally prided itself on being a real physical, hard-nosed, blue-collar football team that has enjoyed a national reputation,” said Bison coach Craig Bohl. “We’re a program that reclassified [from Division II to FCS] but a lot of those same adjectives could apply to us.
“I think these are classic matchups.”
When asked if YSU is the best team he’s seen all year, Bohl said, “That’s a very accurate [statement]. I think they’ve been impressive in all their wins.”
Youngstown State has practiced indoors this week, piping in crowd noise via sideline speakers to get used to the environment. Wolford said the major factors will be turnovers and field position.
Emotion, however, probably won’t be an issue. Expect both teams to have plenty of that.
“We have the opportunity to beat the No. 1 team in the nation; what better opportunity could there be?” Bryan said. “This what you dream about when you’re a little kid, to be in games like this.”