By Joe Scalzo
Youngstown State distributed 15,347 tickets for this year’s home opener against Valparaiso and 15,840 tickets for last week’s game against Albany.
Unlike some other games over the past decade, the actual “butts in seats” number was pretty close to those figures.
Still, Penguins coach Eric Wolford hinted this week that too many of those butts were staying in their seats, particularly on third down.
“Third down is huge,” Wolford said. “When they’re trying to communicate, it needs to be loud out there.
“There’s nothing like third down when this place is rocking. We have a great fan base and they’re getting the hang of it. Hopefully we’ll be the loudest we’ve ever been.”
By 5 p.m. Thursday, YSU had sold — er, distributed — 15,200 tickets for Saturday’s game against Northern Iowa. Ever since the Penguins’ win over Pitt, the athletic department has targeted this game in hopes of drawing one of the biggest crowds in Stambaugh Stadium history.
The biggest crowd of the Wolford era came in last year’s conference opener when the Penguins drew 18,543 for the win over Illinois State. The Penguins then lost two straight and averaged just 13,811 fans for the year. That was the lowest figure since 1996, the year before the facility underwent a $5.5 million renovation that added more than 3,000 seats (via the east side stands) and 14 loges.
Wolford often talks about how the Ice Castle used to be a feared place to play. Much of that was due to YSU’s success — going to six national championship games in just under 10 years will do that — but some of that is due to the crowd.
The biggest crowd in Stambaugh Stadium history was for a UNI game 11 years ago. The Penguins drew 21,119 on Oct. 14, 2000. That game is notable for another reason: it was the last time YSU beat the Panthers.
A win on Saturday would do more than snap an 11-game losing streak to the Panthers. It would send a message to casual fans that this year could be a special one.
“We need all the support that we can get,” said senior running back Jamaine Cook. “The community has been doing a great job filling those stands. This is probably the most excitement that the town and the stands have had since I’ve been here.
“We need to keep that going.”
Earlier this week, the athletic department announced it would open a third tailgate lot (M-26) for Saturday’s game after fans sold out the M-24 and M-7 lots. The Vindicator’s Blitzmobile will be part of the festivities, with this reporter giving away tickets for future games via YSU trivia questions.
Wolford and the team will walk through the tailgate lot around 4:45 p.m. and expects a good atmosphere.
“I think the night atmosphere in Stambaugh Stadium is very electric,” Wolford said. “The crowd is like the fuel for an engine. When they’re revved up and going, that gets you going.”