Winning out may be must for YSU

Penguins 3-3 after

losing two straight

By Brian Dzenis


Youngstown State begins walking the tight-rope this week. Penguins coach Bo Pelini broached the subject of needing to win out to make the postseason on Saturday and the players have adopted that mindset.

“We know we’re going to have to win out to make the playoffs,” left guard Gavin Wiggins said. “I was looking at the [FCS top-10 rankings] and we’re the only ones in there that are 3-3. That speaks volumes about how tough our schedule is, but we know we can’t lose again.”

The Penguins dropped to No. 9 in the polls following last week’s 27-24 overtime loss to No. 2 North Dakota State. Instead of assessing his team’s morale, he’s looking at Northen Iowa (3-3).

“I don’t know, they’re probably not real good,” Pelini said when asked if his team was in good spirits. “You have to move on and get to the next thing, the challenge is to have a good week of practice to go win a football game.”


Penguins corner Billy Nicoe-Hurst is used to being put on the spot in must-win situations.

Last year, during the Penguins’ run to a national championship appearance, a rash of suspensions forced him into the starting lineup at safety for the semifinal and title game. That experience helps the senior now.

“I think it helped me gain some confidence and get comfortable with the defense,” Nicoe-Hurst said of the 2016 run. “It put me in a situation where I had to come in [for] big moments in big games and perform.”

Then came the switch from safety to corner in the fall, but that’s been a smooth transition. He’s started at cornerback in all six of YSU’s games.

“I was just recruited as a DB. I played all three positions — corner, nickel and safety — in high school and in junior college,” Nicoe-Hurst said. “I know where my help is supposed to be when I’m at corner. It helps me understand the defense and where I’m supposed to be at corner.”

Another player who has emerged as calming influence on the team? Sophomore QB Nathan Mays.

“He’s very confident. I told him I still get nervous before games and when I asked [if he does], he said, ‘No, I don’t really get nervous anymore,’” Wiggins said “I’m like ‘You’ve only played in a few games and you don’t get nervous?’ He said it just doesn’t happen. He’s confident back there and I’m confident with him back there.”


Keeping Mays upright has proven difficult in the Penguins’ two-game skid, with the offense giving up 12 sacks in two weeks.

“It’s just preparation. We take the blame for all of those sacks,” Wiggens said. “It’s everybody’s fault.”

Pelini started Cole Newsome at right guard last Saturday in place of Jacob Zinni. On Tuesday, Pelini said he has three players who could take that spot. Good luck getting him to tip his hand.

“We have three guys that we have confidence in and competition makes everybody better,” Pelini said. “Every spot is up for grabs. It’s about putting it on film. If you do, you’re going to be the first one out there.”

Newsome, Zinni and senior Connor Sharp are the guys competing this week.


Quarterback Hunter Wells and defensive end Justus Reed are still considered “50-50” to return from their respective shoulder injuries. Pelini said cornerback Malachi Newell had an MRI, but his status is uncertain.

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