By Joe Scalzo
Senior center Chris Elkins is arguably the best player, and worst interview, on Youngstown State’s football team, which is why he’s the perfect person to talk about last year’s loss to North Dakota State.
The less said, the better.
“That game got out of hand quick,” Elkins said of the 48-7 defeat. “Everything that could go wrong for us did go wrong.
“I haven’t really thought about it much since then.”
Last year’s loss to the Bison started a four-game slide that still affects the perception of YSU’s program, both locally and nationally.
But YSU coach Eric Wolford has been quick to remind people that the Penguins beat NDSU in 2011, and should have won in 2010 when the Penguins took a one-point lead with 51 seconds left, only to give up a touchdown pass 17 seconds later.
“If you played them and you didn’t have any success, like for example if you were playing Alabama and you were a team in the SEC and you hadn’t had any success against them, I think there would probably be that sense [of awe],” Wolford said. “But we know we can line up and play.
“If we do what we’re coached to do and play with great fundamentals, we’ll have an opportunity to play a great game.”
Youngstown State (8-2, 5-1 Missouri Valley) is coming off its first loss in two months, a 22-20 defeat to Northern Iowa that cost the Penguins a chance to clinch a playoff berth.
But YSU can still capture a league title and a first-round postseason bye with wins over NDSU and South Dakota State.
“The good thing is, we still have everything in front of us,” senior DE Kyle Sirl. “I think we’re going to be all right. We have a resilient group of guys.”
The Bison (9-0, 6-0 MVFC) have not lost on the road since 2010, when they fell 38-31 at eventual national champion Eastern Washington in the 2010 FCS quarterfinals. Youngstown is 2-1 against NDSU in Youngstown, with wins in 2008 and 1973.
The Penguins have made no secret of their irritation over having to play at the Fargodome in back-to-back years, a scheduling quirk that came from adding South Dakota to the conference last season.
“It’s good to finally get them at home,” Elkins said. “They have a nice field and it’s nice playing there but we’re happy to be playing back here.”
Overall, the Penguins are 4-3 against the Bison, who have won 18 straight games. YSU is one of just two teams to beat NDSU in the past three years, with Indiana State (2012) the other.
But North Dakota State has had some tough tests this season, including a 24-23 win over UNI in Week 5.
Consequently, YSU’s attitude this week has been one of respect, not reverence.
“Teams have been playing them tough this year and we plan on doing the same,” Sirl said. “Nobody is invincible in college football. You see that week to week. Every weekend, teams go out and there’s upsets all over college football.
“We don’t look at them as invincible or that we can’t beat them. We’ve never thought that about any team we’ve played.”
Still, the biggest difference between NDSU and everyone else in the country is the Bison seem to play their best in the biggest moments.
“They get it done when it matters,” Elkins said.
Can YSU? The country will find out Saturday.
“This what you come to Youngstown State for,” Wolford said. “One of our goals is to win a Missouri Valley Conference championship. That’s on the line Saturday.”