By Joe Scalzo
It’s not hard for opposing teams to look like bums on Hobo Day.
Youngstown State found that out two years ago, when it traveled to South Dakota State and lost to the Jackrabbits, 30-20, in a game that wasn’t as close as it sounds. Close to 15,000 fans piled into Coughlin-Alumni Stadium two years ago, with thousands of costumed students lined up behind the end zone.
“That place was packed,” said redshirt sophomore Donald D’Alesio, who started at free safety in that game. “The fans were right up on us. It was loud, but it’s fun with the fans talking a little trash to you.”
This year marks the 100th anniversary for Hobo Day — SDSU’s version of Homecoming — which is tabbed as “the biggest one-day event in the Dakotas!” Students compete in events like the one-month club (guys grow out beards, women grow out leg hair), Miss Homelycoming (guys compete in a beauty pageant dressed as girls — and, yes, there’s a swimsuit competition) and the Bum Olympics.
“It’ll be an exciting environment,” said YSU coach Eric Wolford. “They’ll be rocking and rolling out there.”
The Jackrabbits (5-2, 2-2 Missouri Valley) have won four straight against YSU and lead the series 8-5. SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier’s teams tend to get better as the season wears on, with his teams finishing with winning records in 11 of the last 15 years.
The Jackrabbits aren’t fancy, preferring to pound the ball with sophomore running back Zach Zenner, who leads the Football Championship Subdivision with 1,360 yards through seven games.
“He’s a north-and-south runner, very physical, runs behind his pads, a one-cut guy,” said Wolford. “In just about every game, he’s been able to break some really big runs. He breaks tackles and you’ve got to get him wrapped up.”
Sophomore quarterback Austin Sumner, who threw for 350 yards and four TDs in last year’s win over YSU, has not been sharp this season, completing just 53 percent of his passes with five TDs and 12 interceptions. It’s a big reason why SDSU is averaging just 19.7 points per game.
Will linebacker Ross Shafrath has 76 tackles (second-most in the MVFC) to lead a defense surrendering just 15.3 points per game. The Jackrabbits are especially good in the red zone, holding opposing teams to just eight TDs in 20 chances.
“I think the glaring thing that shows up is, even though they’ve had some graduation, you can tell they’ve recruited a certain type of kid that plays in their defense,” said Wolford. “I think it starts with their effort. They play hard, they play gap sound, play great with their eyes, do a great job leveraging the football.
“I think that’s a compliment to their staff. They do a good job and this will be a big game for us.”