Archive for November, 2013

Penguins “Snowballed” By South Dakota State


Youngstown State University closed out their regular season losing its last three games including a 42-13 setback to South Dakota State.  The Ice Castle could have been called the Snow Globe as the flakes fell hard making vision a challenge.  Now all YSU can do is sit back and hope that a selection committee deems them good enough to make the postseason field.

“We congratulate South Dakota State.”, said coach Eric Wolford.  “We had no control at the line of scrimmage.  They were much more efficient than us on third down.  At this point we have to hope that finishing third in the conference, unfortunately it is out of our hands.  As of last week, we were eleventh in overall rating.”

Zach Zenner seemed unaffected by the inclement weather.  Zenner shredded the YSU defense for 186 yards on 29 carries for the Jackrabbits.

South Dakota State (8-4) marched the opening drive 81 yards in seven plays capped off by a Reggie Gandy 22-yard scamper.

The Penguins got a break when a Nick Liste punt hit a South Dakota State blocker.  The Penguins recovered the live ball and went 20 yards in six plays to score the apparent game-tying touchdown.  However, Christian Bryan was not on the field for the extra point, and the problem was that he had taken over as the holder on PAT’s since Dante Nania was sidelined.  After colliding with a referee, Bryan was in position, but the play was rushed and the kick was blocked.


In the second quarter, Zenner (above) scored twice on runs of three and six yards that would stretch the South Dakota State lead to 21-6.

YSU closed the gap on a nice play-action pass from Kurt Hess to Martin Ruiz that covered 63 yards to close the gap to 21-13.  South Dakota State managed to put up another touchdown before half that made it 28-13.

In the second half, the YSU defense did a much better job on Zenner but Austin Sumner became the new headache.  Sumner was clutch on a drive that made the score 35-13.  The SDS quarterback ran a draw on a third-and-goal at the YSU seven-yard line and scored untouched.

“It starts on the line of scrimmage”, said Wolford.  “The teams we played the last two weeks control the line of scrimmage.  They did a great job on third down.  I didn’t sense a lack of energy, I did see a bunch of missed tackles.  Anytime you are playing against a Zenner, you can’t miss tackles.”

The Penguins, down 22, had a drive stall at the Jackrabbit 42 to end the third quarter.


The fourth quarter was merely a formality for both teams.  South Dakota State hit a 33-yard pass to get to the YSU four-yard line with just over twelve minutes left in the game.  Two plays later, Zenner scored off-tackle to make it 42-13.

The Penguins just didn’t have it Saturday.  No answer for the South Dakota State running game.  No holes for Ruiz (from Florida) to run through, and Hess closing out his Penguin career running for his life.

If the score of this game is something the playoff selection group looks at, YSU looks to be done until 2014.

“This senior class has gone through a lot of changes.  We had some big wins, including a win against Pitt.  They have been up and down.  It’s disappointing that the seniors do things right on an off of the field.  I want to see them be able to continue”, said Wolford.

However, if the committee looks at the quality wins the Penguins(8-4) have posted (South Dakota, Illinois State) and their overall position in the strongest conference in the FCS, they may get the invite.

“We played well in this conference and we are in third place.  If this is the hardest conference, we should get in”, said Hess.  “It isn’t the way we needed to take care of business.”

YSU Handed 35-17 Setback To #1 North Dakota State


#1 North Dakota State shredded Youngstown State’s defense with a powerful rushing attack that produced 270 yards, on their way to a 35-17 victory over the Penguins.  YSU had an unforeseen obstacle to deal with – an injury to Kurt Hess who tried valiantly to play, but was not 100%.

“I tried to push it today and tried to play”, said Hess.  “It’s a sprain with a little ligament damage.  I will do all I can this week to be ready for next week, it is Senior Day, and I will be ready.  It was different watching, we still had a chance to win.  We need to win next week.  If we win, we deserve to be in the playoffs, if we lose we don’t deserve to be in the playoffs.”

No excuses though, Hess is not responsible for the “A” gap on defense.  His replacement, Dante Nania, entered the game with 11:10 to play in the second quarter.

Nania was effective on a drive to close out the first half that resulted in a field goal that  ended the opening session.  The 24-yard Joey Cejudo kick made it 14-10 in favor of the Bison.


The Penguins got the ball to start the second half, trailing 14-10.  Nania, filling in for Hess, fumbled the ball and injured his shoulder in the process.  The Bison capitalized and seized a 21-10 lead on the 3-yard strike from Brock Jensen to Kevin Vaadeland.

“A loss like this stings”, said senior captain Dom Rich. “We played hard, we are a family here.  As a captain, we have to make these guys all realize that we still have a lot to play for and can make the playoffs.  We have to win.  We might get in with four losses, but we know we will get in with three losses.”

Hess tried to come back in to lead the Penguins, but a three-and-out would signal the end of his day.

North Dakota State would score again on a Jensen to Vaaderland strike, this time from 12 yards.  Vaaderland has 12 catches this entire year, six are for touchdowns after Saturday.

The Penguins were then forced to insert Tanner Garry into the game to play quarterback.  Garry had no live action before this game.

After a few first downs, the Penguins were forced to attempt a 44-yard field goal, but the kick was blocked.

The Penguins defense created a turnover and on a fourth-and-one, Garry threw his first ever touchdown pass, finding Nate Adams on a nice pay-action pass for a 24-yard touchdown that would cut the Bison lead to 28-17.


YSU forced the bison to punt and got the ball back with 12:03 left in the game and trailing by 11.  Garry threw a long ball that Christian Dudzik camped under and picked off to end the YSU momentum.

After another Bison touchdown, YSU was forced to punt but recovered the muffed kick.  This would set up a last gasp shot for the Penguins, but they would turn the ball over on downs, getting to the Bison two.

The trio of quarterbacks for the Penguins combined to go 12-28 for 168 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception.

“Congratulations to Coach Bohl on his third title”, said Eric Wolford.  “We have to take the approach to not leave it up to someone else.  We did some good things on special teams.  There were positives and we had our opportunities.  We will keep working hard and get back to work in preparation for another very big game next week.”

Brock Jensen had a solid day racking up 200 yards, completing 17 of his 22 passes.  Sam Ojuri had a big game for the Bison.  Ojuri had 17 carries for 146 yards and John Crockett added 120 yards for the Bison.  All said , the Bison cranked out 270 yards on the ground.

The Penguins (8-3) are almost forced to win at home next week against South Dakota State to make it into the postseason.  Kickoff is at 2.

#15 YSU Looking To Tie #1 North Dakota State With Win


When Youngstown State takes on North Dakota State Saturday, one of two things will happen.  The first possibility is that the Penguins win the game, tie the top dog in the MVFC, and climb into the top five of every poll.  The second possibility is that the Penguins drop this game and drop out of the polls, forcing themselves to beat South Dakota State next week to cement their postseason chances.

Expect a close football game.  Last seasons blowout loss to the reigning champions following the bye week was a case of anything that could go wrong, did go wrong.  The two games played before last year were both close, hard-fought battles that went down to the wire.  The Bison have outscored their opponents 331-110 so far this season and they are a very disciplined and balanced football team loaded with talent.

Is this where the Penguins turn the corner and become the dominant force they once were?  Nobody can answer that.  With all of the strength in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, it is amazing that North Dakota State has been this dominant for so long. Youngstown State seems poised and hungry to get back into the national spotlight, and what better way to do so than to beat the reigning playground bully up?


The keys for Youngstown State to win this game are very obvious, but hard to attain.

1.  The Penguins have to win the time of possession, move the sticks frequently, and protect the ball on offense.  Kurt Hess brings a heck of a resume to the table on ball control.  The X-factors are the two freshmen running backs – Martin Ruiz and Jody Webb.  If Ruiz and Webb can get into the open field, they are both gifted with another gear and can turn five yard gains into twenty yard bursts – they have been doing it all year.  However, they must protect the ball at all costs.

2.  YSU has to get pressure on Brock Jensen.  If Jensen has all day to read the field, he can pick any defense apart.  YSU’s front four has to find a way to get to Jensen and force him to hurry his reads, and consequently, his throws.  The best coverage for any secondary is a good pass rush.  Expect the Penguins to blitz a lot and get into Jensen’s head.

3.  Special teams must play better.  In both YSU losses this season, special teams have played a significant role.  Against Michigan State, the opening kickoff was fumbled and recovered by the Spartans.  Following the turnover, the fans got louder, the Spartans scored quick, and the momentum was shot for most of the game.  Last week against Northern Iowa, the punt block started the demise of the Penguins.  Those mistakes really kill your chances of winning, especially against a good football team.

4.  Wrinkles.  This will be the game that you will see some new wrinkles on both sides of the ball from YSU.  Last season, the Bison used a halfback pass to open the lead.  Don’t think for a minute that Eric Wolford and Shane Montgomery weren’t drawing plays up in the sand all week.  I guarantee there will be more trick plays run in this game than the previous ten games combined by the Penguins.

5.  Seven is greater than three.  Expect Coach Wolford to go for the jugular any chance he gets.  The Penguins will go for it on fourth down, they will not try a field goal unless it is fourth and more than ten outside of the ND State 20.  Keep an eye on Carson Sharbaugh.


Way back when, at media day, Coach Wolford talked about how a “jury” could keep the Penguins out of the playoffs again.  What he is referring to is the FCS playoff selection committee.  Last season, the Penguins beat Pitt (counts as two in the owners manual), then went into a swoon, and basically were disposed of by the committee.

Wolford made mention of this committee not wanting the Penguins in the postseason again at the weekly press conference three weeks ago.

If you want to argue his logic, look at what has taken place in the last ten days.  YSU has fallen to 15th, tumbling seven spots for losing to a good Northern Iowa team.  Northern Iowa, with five conference losses, shows up in this weeks poll with a 5-5 record.  If the season ended today, they would probably get into the playoffs with five conference losses.  If YSU loses their last two games and end up with four total losses and third place in the conference – the possibility of being shunned exists.  Lots of “ifs” there, but speculation drives the mind.

Wolford knows what is at stake this week.  “There is no doubt that this is the biggest game I have coached here at Youngstown State.  We are playing the two-time champions with a chance to win the conference.”

Game starts at 2.  Noise is mandatory.  Believe!

YSU Loses Heartbreaker On Sievertsen Kick, 22-20


History is tough to reverse.  Youngstown State headed to Northern Iowa winners of all five Missouri Valley Conference games they played in this season.  UNI was 0-5 in conference play.  The Panthers got a 34-yard field goal from Tyler Sievertsen on the final play of the game to lift UNI to a 22-20 win over YSU.

The loss at the UNIdome dropped the Penguins to a seventh consecutive defeat at that establishment.

Special teams, the critical third phase, was where this game was decided.

With exactly 13 minutes left in the game and YSU ahead 14-6, Northern Iowa capitalized on the great field position they earned by blocking a Nick Liste punt.  The Panthers scored to make it 14-12.  They failed on the two-point conversion that would have tied the game as Donald D’Alesio broke up an arrow route.

On the ensuing kickoff, Martin Ruiz fumbled when he was blindsided and the Panthers got possession at the YSU 43.   The Panthers would score a go-ahead touchdown with 9:58 left to play when Brion Carnes found Chad Owens for the second time in the fourth quarter to make it 19-14 in favor of UNI.


The Penguins took the next kickoff and converted a key third down in their own territory and a fourth-and-one inside the UNI 30 on a Ruiz carry.  The Penguins got inside the 10 on a Kurt Hess to Carson Sharbaugh out pattern.  On third and goal at the UNI five, the Guins reclaimed the lead when Hess chose to keep on the option, and mustered just enough yardage to get in.

Ahead by a count of 20-19, the Penguins went for two, but Hess had to flip the ball out of bounds under immense pressure.

Northern Iowa got the ball back and converted four first downs.  Carnes found Kreston Caldwell twice on crucial third downs on this drive.  With 20 seconds left, on a third-and-two, Carnes broke right and gained a first down inside the YSU 20.

This set the stage for Tyler Sievertsen.  The UNI kicker already nailed field goals from 49 and 37 yards.  He also missed from 37 yards.

Sievertsen nailed the 34-yarder to give UNI the win.


Hess finished the game 15-22 for 207 yards and a touchdown to Andre Stubbs.  On the touchdown pass to Stubbs, Hess was in big trouble and somehow got enough air on his pass, while getting hit, to find his receiver in the back of the end zone.  Hess would also rush for 20 yards on seven carries and two touchdowns, a career first.

Ruiz had 24 carries for 88 yards.  Andrew Williams hauled in four receptions for 63 yards.

The Penguins have a week to prepare for #1 North Dakota State.  The huge game still has major title implications for both teams.  If the Penguins can win, they would sit atop the conference tied with NDSU but would get an automatic playoff bid if they can also beat South Dakota State the following week.

Kickoff is set for 2 pm.  Noise is mandatory.

Offense Powers YSU To Dramatic 38-34 Win At South Dakota


Youngstown State stayed unbeaten in Missouri Valley Conference play with a dramatic and wild 38-34 win over South Dakota.  More importantly, the Penguins are one step closer to a championship, and may only need one more win in their final three games to secure a playoff berth, the first of the Eric Wolford Era.

Martin Ruiz (above) scored the game-winning touchdown with 14 seconds to play to lift YSU.  The winning drive featured great clock management by Kurt Hess, great play calling by Shane Montgomery, and superb effort from the entire offensive unit.

Ruiz would finish the game with 131 yards on 23 carries with a pair of scores.

Jordan Roberts gave South Dakota a 34-31 lead when he hit the end zone with two minutes left to play.  Youngstown State (8-1, 5-0) snatched the win with a 10-play, 74-yard march, highlighted by Ruiz’s four yard touchdown.


Both YSU freshman running backs, Ruiz and Jody Webb, made big plays when the Penguins needed them most.  Webb scored the Penguins first touchdown on a well-designed 40-yard wheel route that put YSU ahead 7-3.  Webb would score another for the Penguins and finished the game with five carries for 64 yards and two receptions for 52 yards.

“This is a tough place to win, I think they have gone 48-4 here”, said Wolford.  “This is quite an atmosphere and Coach Glenn is doing a tremendous job here.”

Hess would finish the game with 283 passing yards and threw two touchdowns while running for another.

YSU would finish with 517 offensive yards, and that total could have been much higher if you take away a few costly penalties and three lost fumbles.  To have all of that working against you, and still come out a winner, makes for a good tale of overcoming adversity .


Youngstown State had problems and could feel fortunate coming out with a win.  Andre Stubbs (above) had the ball stripped from behind on a return, Joey Cejudo missed an extra point breaking a string of 51 straight.

Next up for the playoff-seeking Penguins is another road game in a different dome.

This time the bus will point to Northern Iowa.  Uncharacteristically, UNI is 0-5 in conference play and 3 of those losses were consecutive, overtime defeats – an FCS record.  They are very capable of beating anyone in the league and YSU has to be ready to play.