Big win began with belief

YSU expected to beat Pitt — and did

By Joe Scalzo


This story starts with quote from Youngstown State coach Eric Wolford that, in light of the Penguins’ 31-17 victory over Pitt on Saturday night, won’t sound that surprising:

“We expected to win. I know there’s no one else in America that expected us to win but we expect to win. That’s one of our fundamentals of success.”

Here’s the catch. He said it last year after the Penguins’ 28-6 loss at Michigan State. And he was pretty peeved when he said it.

He gave almost the same quote two years ago after a 44-14 loss at Penn State: “We believed we could win that football game.”

Wolford has 16 “Fundamentals of Success” and one of them is expecting to win. It took 21/2 years, a litany of sore throats and countless sleepless nights for his team to catch up with the vision Wolford had when he took the job in December, 2009.

But they did.

“These guys, they’ve been on a pretty good journey themselves,” said Wolford, who has just 11 players remaining on the roster from when he was hired. “My first year here, people didn’t understand why I screamed and yelled all the time. We’re going to demand perfection.

“We have such a high standard at Youngstown State that we’re measured by. This place is about championships. One game is not going to define us.”

Wolford then cited his 24-hour rule, where his players can either celebrate a win or mourn a loss for 24 hours before moving on to the next week.

“We’ve got bigger fish to fry [than Pitt],” Wolford said.

Those fish won’t arrive for a few weeks. On Saturday, the Penguins host FCS doormat Valparaiso, a team they defeated 77-13 last season. That’s followed by a home game against Albany, which is moving from the partial-scholarship Northeast Conference to the full-scholarship Colonial Athletic Association after this season.

YSU should easily win both, setting up the most grueling portion of its schedule, a three-game stretch against Northern Iowa (which has won 11 straight in the series), North Dakota State (the defending FCS champions) and Illinois State (picked to finish fourth in the conference, behind UNI, NDSU and YSU).

“We have, what, 10 more games left?” said redshirt freshman Andre Stubbs following the Pitt win. “We just have to win those too.”

On Friday, that would have seemed far-fetched.

Wolford went 9-13 in his first two seasons as his teams repeatedly wore down in the fourth quarter. That didn’t happen Saturday as YSU put the game away with an 11-play drive — all of them runs — that set up David Brown’s 25-yard field goal with 3:02 left.

After the game, Wolford credited strength coach Mike Cochran (a former YSU standout from Girard) for getting the Penguins physically ready for the Panthers.

The rest of the coaching staff can be credited for the mental part.

“I think we just really had trust in each other and that’s something we’ve built over the last year and a half to two years with Coach Wolf,” said junior quarterback Kurt Hess. “Believing in each other and realizing we’re not going to out with our teammates, we’re going out with our brothers.

“And if you can’t count on your brothers, you can’t count on anybody.”

Saturday’s victory went a long way toward repairing the Penguins’ relationship with their fans, who turned out in force for last year’s season finale against Missouri State only to watch YSU squander a 17-point halftime lead in a loss to the league’s second-worst team.

Several thousand made the trek to Pittsburgh and, by the time the game ended, they may have outnumbered the Panther fans.

“This is a big win and I hope they enjoyed it because this is something that doesn’t happen every day,” said Hess.

Maybe not. But if YSU keeps playing the way it did on Saturday, it’ll happen a lot this year.

“Our team is ridiculously good,” said senior DT Aronde Stanton. “If we just keep working and keep chipping at it, I think we can be the best team in our conference and in the nation.”

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