By Joe scalzo
After getting to bed after 4 a.m. the past two Sundays — the down side of playing two straight road games in the Missouri Valley — Youngstown State quarterback Kurt Hess wouldn’t complain if today’s game kicked off at noon.
“I’d rather wake up and play right away,” he said.
Hess may be in the minority on that one. As senior cornerback Dale Peterman said, “There’s just something about playing under the lights, it’s just a thing for me.
“I think with a lot of players it’s just that feeling of all day you’re anxious to play and win. It’s just exciting.”
For the second straight year, YSU’s home conference opener will start at night. And for the second straight year, the Penguins will draw a big crowd.
The Penguins have already distributed more than 15,000 tickets for today’s 7 p.m. game against Illinois State, with a big walk-up crowd expected thanks to a good forecast, a full day of events and no competition from that team 21/2 hours southwest of here.
“There’s a buzz around here in Youngstown,” junior wide receiver Christian Bryan said. “We expect a nice little crowd. We’ll all be revved up for the game. It should be a great atmosphere and it should be a great night.”
The teams have played every year since 1995. They’ve split the last four meetings, with Illinois State scoring the game’s final 28 points last year to rally.
But maybe the only thing recognizable about this year’s Illinois State team is head coach Brock Spack’s Ron Burgundy-level mustache.
Gone are record-setting quarterback Matt Brown and record-setting receiver Tyrone Walker, as well as a host of all-conference players from a team that went 9-4 and advanced to the FCS quarterfinals.
When the Redbirds were ranked fourth in the MVFC’s preseason poll, Spack admitted, “I was hoping for maybe fifth or sixth. I picked us fifth.” After losing to Ball State and Eastern Illinois to start the season, ISU beat Abilene Christian, then got drubbed by one-win Missouri State 37-10 two weeks ago. The Redbirds then rebounded to beat Western Illinois 35-21 last week.
On paper, this is a game YSU should win, especially after posting back-to-back road wins against Southern Illinois and Indiana State.
“They’re playing well everywhere,” Spack said of the Penguins. “That’s why they’re nationally-ranked. They’re a very good team.”
The Penguins can prove it to their fans tonight.
“Seven o’clock at Stambaugh Stadium, night game, good football team playing,” Wolford said. “That’s the place to be.”