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Strange season ends

YSU cancels rescheduled game with North Dakota

Correspondent file photo / Robert Hayes Youngstown State defensive lineman Chris Fitzgerald, from Youngstown East, sacks South Dakota’s Chase Camp during the first half of a game on March 20 at Stambaugh Stadium. The Penguins were due to play their final game of the spring on Saturday, but it was canceled.

YOUNGSTOWN — An odd, somewhat frustrating season came to an abrupt end for the Youngstown State football team Wednesday.

The Missouri Valley Football Conference announced the cancellation of the Penguins’ final game, which was set for Saturday against league rival North Dakota. According to a statement by the MVFC, the Penguins, who played more league games than any other team, “determined earlier today they could not play the game.” No other specifics were given by the MVFC or YSU, which also posted a news release.

“The efforts by our team and staff throughout this entire year have been incredible,” YSU coach Doug Phillips said in the release. “To play seven games this spring says a lot about their passion for football and commitment to our program. We look forward to finishing off this semester strong academically and will continue to work hard to be ready to go when fall camp starts in just three months.”

The Penguins, who finished the season 1-6, were originally supposed to play the sixth-ranked Fighting Hawks (4-1) on March 27, but the game was postponed because of a positive COVID-19 test within the UND program.

North Dakota has not played a game since March 20, when the Fighting Hawks suffered their only loss of the season, a 34-13 setback to North Dakota State. The Penguins were coming off their first win of the season when the first matchup with UND was canceled. They dropped their next two games and lost starting quarterback Mark Waid to an “upper body” injury two weeks ago in a loss at Western Illinois.

Phillips may have hinted at the possibility of a cancellation in his weekly press conference Tuesday.

The first-year coach was asked what it said about the Penguins that they didn’t cancel the rest of their season, like MVFC teams Indiana State, Western Illinois and Illinois State chose to, and were finishing the season.

“We’re not to the end of the week yet,” Phillips quipped. “So you never know what’s going to happen.”

The FCS chose to cancel its fall 2020 season and push the games back to the spring because of the pandemic. The season started off well enough, with 10 of the conference’s 11 teams choosing to participate (Indiana State opted out). All 10 played games during February, but the cancellations spiked over the past month. Illinois State ended its season after a March 20 game. Western Illinois pulled off its lone win of the season over the Penguins on April 3 — it was the only MVFC game played that week. The Leathernecks canceled their season two days later.

YSU continued to compete, and its April 10 game at Missouri State was one of only two conference games played that week. The matchup with North Dakota was a big one for the Fighting Hawks, who have a strong chance to receive an at-large bid but hasn’t played in nearly a month.

They would share the league title with Missouri State and the winner of Saturday’s contest between North Dakota State (6-1, 5-1) and South Dakota State (4-1, 4-1). Southern Illinois (4-3, 3-3) also plays Saturday, hosting No. 17 Southeastern Louisiana.

The 16-team FCS playoff bracket will be revealed at 11:30 a.m. Sunday on ESPNU and WatchESPN. The winner of the NDSU-SDSU contest earns the league’s automatic berth into the championship. The playoffs will run from April 24 to May 16, with the national championship game on May 16, in Frisco, Texas.

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