Penguins find selves at crossroads
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By Joe Scalzo
Youngstown State senior center Mark Pratt got back home late Saturday night and started talking to his wife about that day’s loss.
And talking. And talking. And talking.
“I talked until Sunday afternoon,” said Pratt, whose team blew a 21-point lead en route to a 35-28 loss to Illinois State. “She’s kind of upset with me.
“Personally, I hate losing. It’s the one thing I can’t stand more than anything. I just feel sick to my stomach. I lose my appetite. I don’t want to do anything. It’s just not a good feeling.”
By the time the Penguins (4-2, 1-2 Missouri Valley) take the field Saturday against Southern Illinois, it will have been 29 days since they had a good feeling after a game. Since a 35-28 win over Northern Iowa on Oct. 22, YSU has gone 0-2.
Needless to say, this weekend would be a good time to get a win.
“I just know that this is a big football game,” Penguins coach Eric Wolford said. “I don’t like to put pressure on my kids by no means, but I made the point to my coaching staff to understand that this is a big game. They’re 3-1 in the conference. We’re 1-2.
“I feel like this game here could have playoff implications as far as the way the pecking order shakes out at the end of the year. This will be a game that we look on and say, ‘This helped us or it hurt us.’ ”
FCS teams typically need seven Division I wins (FBS or FCS) to be considered for a playoff spot. (Thirty-one teams have made the FCS playoffs with four losses.) After a 4-0 start, the playoffs seemed like the least of the Penguins’ goals. Now, there are six MVFC teams with at least four wins, including SIU (4-3).
Thanks to the Pitt win, YSU would probably earn a playoff spot if it can finish 3-2. That doesn’t make Saturday’s game a must-win, but it’s close.
“I don’t ever like to say must-win,” said Wolford, “but I’ll put it this way: I’m treating it like a must-win, I don’t want my team to treat it like that because I don’t want my guys to be tight. I think sometimes when you’re tight, you might try too hard.
“We kind of saw what happened with the North Dakota State game [a 48-7 loss]. When you’re all excited to be in the moment, and you try a little too hard, and you don’t do exactly what you’re coached to do, you have a problem.”
Last year at Southern Illinois, the Penguins did face a must-win. They were 2-3 and had just lost two straight conference games. A 35-23 win over the Salukis stabilized their season.
A win Saturday could do the same.
“People might overlook us because of two losses but those were two good teams,” Pratt said. “We need to come back and come back strong. And we will.”