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How Long Will It Take To Fill The Kurt Hess Void?

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Entering 2014, Shane Montgomery faces a big challenge – make Youngstown State’s lethal offense click.  The biggest problem with that plan is that Kurt Hess has graduated and can’t play as a Penguin anymore.

The leading replacements for the newly vacated starting quarterback position are a junior,  Dante Nania, and a sophomore, Tanner Gary.  Both were backups last year and both played when Hess missed a game-and-a-half with injuries.  The games they appeared in were both losses.  Nick Wargo and Ricky Davis were also on the Spring roster – lots of competition, lots of choices.

Montgomery is an offensive guru.  He can call plays and read defenses from the press box with the best of them.  He will be a head coach again within the next few years. Unfortunately, he has his work cut out this season – his fifth with the Penguins.  In his first four seasons, Montgomery had Hess – a luxury for any offensive coordinator.

Hess, for the most part, protected the ball and controlled the offense – two of the biggest tasks a quarterback is asked to do.  He hit some rough patches, especially in his junior season, but all-in-all, was the heart and soul of the YSU offense.

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Nania and Gary may develop, with experience, into the type of signal caller geared to run Montgomery’s offense.  Whomever Montgomery and Head Coach Eric Wolford decide on – they will have the luxury of growing into the role after the Illinois opener. The next three YSU games are against Duquesne, Butler, and Saint Francis before heading into league play.

Some of the things the future quarterback will have going for himself will be the return of Jelani Berassa, Nate Adams, Christian Bryan, Michael Wheary, and a full-blown running game with established backs in Martin Ruiz and Jody Webb.

Unfortunately, college athletics end for everyone in the same limited time span of four seasons of eligibility (minus redshirts and medical problems).  YSU will have to go through a little growing spell at QB.  An improved defense and established base offense should help the new quarterback, whoever wins the job,  mature faster.

The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Lets KISS Implode

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Gene Simmons used to be cool, then the money found him. Paul Stanley used to be cool, then success ruined him. Kiss was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame this week, and the two governing forces of a 40-year run were the dictators that prevented good memories for the fans to relish in a moral victory over the critics.

Ace Frehley and Peter Criss are no angels. Their problems with substances have been well documented over the past 30 years. They, however, were half of the reason that KISS was inducted into the Class of 2014. For Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons to prevent the fans from enjoying the original lineup performing was hypocritical in the sense they have been using the crutch, and still are, that everything they do is “for our fans”.

I’m sure if you took a poll of KISS fans, the overwhelming majority would have voted for the original lineup to perform three songs.  Fresh off of a trip to Las Vegas, I would have bet my life savings that if it were lucrative enough of a demand, Simmons would have jumped at the chance.

Heading out on a tour with Def Leppard (who will open?), KISS is using Tommy Thayer on guitar and Eric Singer playing the drums.  Singer and Thayer are talented musicians, don’t misunderstand the respect factor for them.  However, they are borrowing the identity of a couple of Hall of Famers to succeed.  Kiss could use anybody as long as they are wearing the makeup, nobody cares much.  Nobody except the die hard KISS Army.  The once powerful legion is sure to diminish because the stubborn star child and greedy demon looked bad leading up to this induction.

When the hardware was handed out on Thursday night, the four original members stood tall and proud, united, albeit by force.  Frehley has been quoted as saying he could “give a shit less” but felt the fans were the ones being punished by the two power mongers.  Criss just looked happy to be involved in any way.

The bottom line KISS fans, is now, how long will you watch Simmons and Stanley and their rotating cast of hired help prosper off of ten years that built 40?  Maybe they can let David Letterman put the cat makeup on or let Cher be Ace Frehley for the new tour. If it has an inkling of financial potential, Simmons is in.  If Simmons is in, Stanley is in.  Paul is too smart to know that Gene is a financial machine to impede his crazy manipulations.

Good luck to the LA KISS, their latest financial endeavor.  They surely will hold nothing on the Mahoning Valley Thunder except that KISS logo on the helmets (that Frehley designed) will now draws suckers.  I admit, I was a sucker for years, but after this debacle, I am moving on.

Cole And Hain Power Penguins Over Detroit

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Youngstown State University has not had the best of luck when facing Detroit in Horizon League Basketball games.  The Penguins dropped their last four contests to the Titans.  Things were different Saturday night.  YSU didn’t look like a tribe of dwarves looking up at a gang of giants.

The other thing Detroit did not have was Ray McCallum.  The 2012-13 Horizon League Player of The Year skipped town on his old man for a beach house in Sacramento and a job playing for the Kings of the NBA.

To make things better, the Penguins were sporting some brand new uniforms (see photos).  They work.  YSU 77, Detroit 63.

“We are 1-0, so they work”, said Cole.

The Penguins opened up the game with a 9-4 spurt, but trailed 19-17 with 7:36 left in the opening half.  With 6:47 left, DJ Cole was fouled driving to the hoop and converted a pair of free throws to tie the game at 19.  After a Penguin turnover and a Titan bucket, the Kamren Belin hit the second of two free throws.

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Solid defense by YSU then set up a shot clock violation against Detroit.  With just under four minutes in the half, Kendrick Perry exploded to the hoop and scored to hand the Penguins back a 22-21 lead.  The Penguins, behind seven points from Perry, held a 28-26 lead at the intermission.

In the second half, YSU started to pull away.  Cole was a definite catalyst both shooting and passing, as well as, hustling.  With 11:54 left in the game, the Penguins were ahead 47-39 behind Cole’s eleven second half points.

“They were getting tired, so we kept running”, said Cole.  ”We really didn’t make any adjustments at the half, but our shots were just falling.”

The Penguins would maintain  51-47 lad with nine minutes left in the game.  Perry scooted the baseline on a nice reverse layup to stake the Penguins to the four point margin.  Coming out of a timeout, Ryan Weber nailed a three to put the ‘Guins up seven, 54-47.

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Weber would hit another three for the sixth consecutive Penguin point.  Bobby Hain, reacting to the pep band’s chants of “Bobby, Bobby”, responded scoring the next five points to build the lead to 14 points at 66-52, but with 4:45 left in the game Juwan Howard, Jr. collected his 19th point to keep Detroit around.

“Typical Hoizon League, 40-minute bloodbath”, said Coach Jerry Slocum.  ”We shared the basketball.  I thought that Kam {Belin} and Ryan {Weber} did a really good job tonight.”

With four minutes left in the game, Cole stole a pass on the Detroit end and threw an outlet to Perry streaking up the left side.  Perry was fouled hard and the refs were back at the video monitor.  The result was a flagrant one foul (two shots and the ball- courtesy Kyle Kroynovich).

The Penguins (12-8, 3-2) were lead by Cole who notched 22 points, a career high.  Rising folk hero,Hain added 18 and Kendrick Perry added 12.

Detroit got 20 from Howard.

Eric Wolford Staying Home

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Youngstown State University has confirmed that Head Football Coach, Eric Wolford, will remain in charge of the football program.  Wolford has compiled a 24-21 record since taking over for Jon Heacock four seasons ago.

Wolford, a tireless recruiter, has surrounded himself with good people to revitalize the Penguins football program.  He has often been quoted as saying that nothing except winning a championship is acceptable.  The Penguins inched closer to that goal in 2013, narrowly missing a playoff bid.

Trevor Parks, the Sports Information Director at YSU commented on the recent developments.

“Details by both sides will be worked out soon”, said Parks of the extension.  ”Coach Wolford will be YSU’s football coach moving into the foreseeable future.”

Congratulations Coach Wolford!

YSU Football Winter Notes

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Now that the 2013 season is well-behind, reflection and awards are handed out. Youngstown State University fell just short of the goal – making the playoffs, but there was plenty of positive that needs to be recognized.

For starters, the Penguins finished the season 8-4, winning two of every three games they played.  More impressively is that the Penguins four losses, in hindsight, were to the team that won the Rose Bowl (Michigan State), the team that won the FCS Championship (North Dakota State), a team that advanced past the first round of the FCS Playoffs (South Dakota State), and a team that lost three conference overtime games in a row setting a record (UNI).

If the UNI loss seems like the one that got away, we later learned that Kurt Hess played the entire second half hurt, forcing the Penguins into a one-dimensional attack of just running.  Coach Eric Wolford never pinned that loss on his quarterback, he took the blame for it, saying “This one is on me”.  It came to light almost a whole week later that Hess was indeed injured.

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This group of seniors (above) will be a tough bunch to replace.  Hess started all four years he was here.  But some of the unheralded players – the limping DJ Moss, the banged-up Dom Rich, the falling out of grace, yet remaining a team player, Torrian Pace, and the versatile Carson Sharbaugh will all be missed.  Kyle Sirl ended up being one of my favorite all-time Penguins because he was fighting no matter what the score.

It was at East Lansing that I started developing such a respect for Sirl.  Trailing Michigan State 35-10, Sirl came toward the sidelines, winded, beat up, and looked at me saying something along the lines of “We are going to make a run”.  It would be understated to say he wasn’t giving it his all.  YSU ended up losing 55-17.  They did however, gain almost 100 yards more on the ground than Michigan would against a stingy Spartans defense.

On to the awards.  As recently as today, several Penguins have received postseason awards.  Hess was named to the FCS ADA Academic All-Star Team.  Chris Elkins was named a Second-Team-All American by The Associated Press and Third Team by The Sports Network.  Kyle Bryant was selected to play in the prestigious East-West Shrine Game, Elkins would later be named to join Bryant.  Jelani Berassa was given another year of eligibility.  Martin Ruiz, who finished tied for third for the Jerry Rice Awardand Jameel Smith made it onto the MVFC All-Newcomer team.

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The coaching staff for the Penguins, seems to remain in place, for now.  Ron Strollo has given Wolford a vote of confidence by publicly stating that he hopes Wolford is coaching the Penguins for a very long time.  Wolford’s biggest steps of growth as a head coach were made this season.  He seemed to be looser with the players, less vocal with the media, and was able to pinpoint his teams strengths from week-to-week with pretty good accuracy.  Injuries are a part of the game, and adverse injuries, like the Hess situation the last three weeks, cannot be the grounds for calling Wolford or any of his coaches unworthy.  Ride the horse that got you there.  Hess was the horse, he just had bad timing with an uncontrollable injury.

The four new coaches – Mangino, Gallon, Beathard, and Bryant did good work for Wolford.  Bricillo, Cochran, Stoops, Montgomery, Kopp, Davis, And Sims are a great supporting cast and the new guys enhanced the overall product.

2014 is right around the corner.  Shane Montgomery is going to have the hardest assignment as an offensive coordinator losing Kurt Hess.  As they recruit, they know what they need.  Best of luck signing the players to push it to the next level.  Oh, and 8-4 really wasn’t too bad!

YSU’s Shawn Amiker Honored With Player of The Week Honor

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Youngstown State junior forward Shawn Amiker (Oak Park, Mich./Ferndale) has been named the Horizon League Men’s Basketball Player of the Week, while UIC guard Pat Birt (Plano, Texas/East) has been named the Freshman of the Week, for the week of Dec. 23-29. The award is the first for both Amiker and Birt.

 

Returning from the holiday break, Youngstown State (9-6) rolled in its final non-conference game, 85-59, over South Dakota.   Amiker played just 18 minutes against South Dakota, but notched a career-high 20 points. Coming off the bench, Amiker went 8-of-9 from the floor while collecting a team-high seven rebounds.

 

Emerging as the Penguins’ sixth man, Amiker now has four games this year with 10 or more points off the bench and five total. The junior has posted consecutive double-digit scoring efforts for the second time this season after he scored 10 at St. John’s.

 

Scrappers Winter Notes

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The Mahoning Valley Scrappers will not be playing a game anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean that there has not been a ton of things going on in the busy Scrapper offices.  Here is a rundown of some news from Eastwood Field.

  • HWS Baseball announced that Jordan Taylor will be promoted to Vice President-HWS Baseball effective immediately. Taylor will continue his duties as General Manager of the Scrappers as well as have increased involvement in the other teams owned by HWS Baseball.

HWS Baseball owns and operates four baseball franchises. In addition to the Scrappers, the HWS family includes the Mobile BayBears (Class AA Affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks), Modesto Nuts (Class A Affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, and the Columbia Blowfish (Summer Collegiate Coastal Plain League). “Jordan has done a great job as General Manager the past 3 seasons,” Michael Savit, Managing Partner of the HWS Group said. “Last season, in particular, we had our highest average attendance since 2008, and a 10% attendance increase overall. He is highly deserving of this promotion.”

  •  The Mahoning Valley Scrappers and M.V.P.B.A. Scrappers Backers with media partner Sports Radio 1240 are pleased to announce that they will be hosting a Hot Stove Banquet Thursday, January 30th from 6-8 pm at Ciminero’s Banquet Center in Niles.  The event will feature several top prospects from the Indians’ organization.  Tickets may be purchased for $35 for adults and $25 for children twelve years of age and under at the Scrappers Eastwood Field Box Office, Scrappers Holiday Store at the Eastwood Mall or by calling (330) 505-0000.
  • The Mahoning Valley Scrappers are pleased to announce a bus trip ticket package to the Cleveland Indians Home Opener against the Minnesota Twins on Friday, April 4, 2014.  The cost of the trip is $68 per person and includes the bus trip and upper reserved seat ticket to the game.

    The bus will leave Eastwood Field a few hours before first pitch and return after the conclusion of the game.  The Scrappers will contact all ticket purchasers with a departure time when the April 4th game time is announced.  Seating is limited to the first 50 people.

    For more information, contact the Scrappers Front Office at (330) 505-0000 or visit www.mvscrappers.com for a registration form.

Penguins “Snowballed” By South Dakota State

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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.

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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.

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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

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#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.

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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.

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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

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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?

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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.

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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!