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Snowed under: Penguins fall flat in finale



Published: Sun, November 24, 2013 @ 12:07 a.m.

RELATED: Playoff hopes rest on shaky resume, again

By Joe Scalzo

scalzo@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

One of Jim Tressel’s favorite sayings at Youngstown State was, “November is for contenders.”

On Saturday, his former team looked like pretenders.

With an FCS playoff berth on the line, South Dakota State manhandled YSU’s offensive and defensive lines, rolling up 482 yards (including 341 on the ground) en route to a 42-13 victory at Stambaugh Stadium.

“Probably the most frustrating thing for us as a program right now is the way we were handled at the line of scrimmage today,” said YSU coach Eric Wolford, who dropped to 0-4 against the Jackrabbits. “I think it was pretty glaring on both sides of the ball.”

Playing in cold, windy conditions — Stambaugh Stadium looked like the inside of a snow globe by the second half — Youngstown State had no answer for SDSU’s Zach Zenner (he ran 29 times for 186 yards and two TDs) or QB Austin Sumner (he completed 15 of 19 for 170 yards and two TDs).

The Jackrabbits went 81 yards in seven plays to score on the opening drive and went 80 yards or more on their next two scoring drives, taking a 21-6 lead late in the second quarter that felt even larger.

The win officially moves SDSU (8-4, 5-3 Missouri Valley) into a tie with YSU (8-4, 5-3) for second in the conference standings, but Saturday’s game made it clear which team was better.

“I think the weather was a bit of a factor because our guys thrive on adversity,” South Dakota State coach John Stiegelmeier said. “I don’t know about their team but I know it didn’t hurt us.”

The loss — YSU’s third straight — put a serious dent in the Penguins’ playoff hopes and revealed the same problems that have plagued them during Wolford’s four-year tenure: poor defense, poor performance in big games and an inability to right the ship when things go south.

Afterward, Wolford tried to argue that YSU still deserves a playoff berth — his argument essentially rests on the Penguins being the third-best team from the nation’s best conference — and they’ll officially learn their fate at 11:30 a.m. today when the selections are announced on ESPNU.

“Does 8-4 get us in? I don’t know,” Wolford said. “We had a chance to control our destiny today and we didn’t do it.”

Playing perhaps his final game as a Penguin, senior quarterback Kurt Hess completed just 9 of 19 passes for 138 yards, a TD and two interceptions, which led to 14 South Dakota State points.

Hess holds nearly every career passing record in YSU history, but he seems likely to end his career without playing in a playoff game.

“This stinks. This hurts,” said Hess, who played the whole game on an injured ankle. “I’d love to play another one.”

Freshman running back Martin Ruiz, who entered the game with the highest per-game average in the conference, was a non-factor, rushing 12 times for 26 yards and YSU’s high-powered offense was held to just 213 yards — more than 200 below its average.

YSU has increased its wins every season under Wolford, winning three his first year, then six, then seven, then eight. But, like they did two years ago against Missouri State, the Penguins laid an egg in their home finale with the playoffs on the line.

When asked if he’s satisfied with where his program stands in Year 4, Wolford said, “I’ll never be satisfied until we’re playing for a championship and I don’t think you can ever settle, but I think it’s very clear that we’ve made a bunch of progress.

“We’re in the upper echelon of the conference now. We’re not at the bottom, we’re not at the middle. We’ve worked our way to the top. We’ve got to find a way to take that next step to get to that 1-2 spot.”


Comments

1ItAintEasy(15 comments)posted 8 months, 1 week ago

I go to all the games, inferior coaching, game planning, and preparation needs to be added to the list.

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2pga2er(30 comments)posted 8 months, 1 week ago

Coach can argue they "deserve" a playoff spot till he is blue in the face but the numbers don't lie. If I am in on the playoff selections, I am not looking favorably at a team on a 3 game losing streak. YSU had 3 games to win 1 and didn't get it done... simple as that! As a fan of college football and YSU, I don't think they "deserve" to limp in just because they play in a good conference. Right now, when it matters most, they are not playing good football.

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3PeteGuin(7 comments)posted 8 months, 1 week ago

It looks like Ron Strollo and company have some difficult decisions to make this week. What I saw over the last three weeks was a good group of talented young men with no spark or desire to win, despite a strong opportunity to make the playoffs. I don't know what happens behind the locker room doors, but I have to believe that situation is a direct result of the coaching leadership. And with access to two former and current Penguin coaches with multiple NCAA Coach of the Year honors, there's no excuse for having these issues in year 4. Eric Wolford is a good guy and he may very well be a great head coach one day, but I'm not sure YSU can wait for him to continue to develop.

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4HSG(108 comments)posted 8 months, 1 week ago

I agree with Pete Guin a lot!

As a fan, VERY DISAPPOINTED with a lack of playoffs this year!

When they were 7-1 and crusing into Northern Iowa, every astute fan in town was apprehensive about catastrophe---and it happened! an 0-3 finish! The worst of all possible worlds.

My only real 'beef' is that there arent more local kids making HUGE contributions, as in the Tressel Era. Fitch, Mooney, Boardman, City, etc., all had kids play big roles on CHAMPIONSHIP teams. It looks like our recruiting trips to Florida land third tier kids who dont seem up for the challenge of 'the last three weeks.' jus sayin'

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