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

IMG_1365

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?

IMG_1159

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.

IMG_1214

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

childs-tackle

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.

Hess

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.

stubbs-handoff

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

ruiz2

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.

hymes

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 .

stubbs

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.

Penguins Head Into Bye Week 7-1 Following Hard-Fought 24-14 Homecoming Win

IMG_9602

On a gloomy October afternoon, Youngstown State was tested in a big way by a very game Western Illinois team.  Joey Cejudo’s 33-yard field goal in the third quarter gave the Guins the lead for good and Kurt Hess found Nate Adams with 2:34 left in the game to ice a 24-14 Penguins victory on Homecoming Day.

“We left a lot of yards on the field, and no team is perfect”, said Adams.  ”They came in with a great game plan.  We will take the win when we can. ”

Youngstown State jumped out to a 7-0 lead on a 60-yard run by Martin Ruiz.  The talented freshman would finish the game with 199 yards on 20 carries.

“I wouldn’t have any yards if it wasn’t for my linemen, this is a good chance to give them their props”, said Ruiz on his great performance.

Western Illinois would tie the game by going 60 yards in 12 plays.  Quarterback Trenton Norvell would dive in from a yard out on a designed bootleg right.

IMG_9608

Nick Liste proved to be a valuable commodity for the Guins, again.  Liste buried the Leathernecks on their own one-yard line twice in the game, once in each half.

“Liste could be our MVP this season”, said Wolford.

With 5:08 left in the first half, Kurt Hess found Christian Bryan for a seven yard score.  The Penguins got the ball on the nine yard line when Leatherneck punter Nathan Knuffman had problems handling a low snap.  Once Knuffman gained possession of the ball, Kyle Sirl pried the pigskin loose.  Donald D’Alesio fell on the ball for the Penguins.  Sirl had ten tackles.

“We are gonna get everyone’s best shot when they come in here to play”, said Sirl.  ”If an opportunity comes my way, I am going to do my best to make a play.”

In the second half, the Leathernecks proved they were here to play with a game-tying 99-yard drive.  Norvell found Lance Lenoir for a seven-yard touchdown strike that would make it 14-14 with 7:26 elapsed in the third quarter.

IMG_9606

The drive that would end up making all of the difference in the world for the Penguins started in the third quarter and would result in a score in the fourth quarter.  Joey Cejudo connected on a 33-yard field goal that would put YSU ahead 17-14 with 11:34 left in the game.

Western would take the next possession all the way to the YSU 30-yard line before stalling and missing a 40-yard field goal attempt – wide left.  Sirl had a sack and a tackle for the Penguins to halt the momentum.

“It’s a good thing we had 250 rushing yards, because we didn’t throw the ball well”, said Eric Wolford.  ”We left some plays out there.  We will do some self-scout, and reassess what is working and what is not.”

From there, Ruiz rambled off a 57-yard scamper to get the ball to the Leatherneck 17-yard line. Demond Hymes took the next handoff for nine yards to the WIU eight.  Hess used a sneak to the left of his center, All-American Chris Elkins.

On third and goal from the five, Hess found Adams who made a nice diving catch to give the Penguins a 24-14 lead.  Hess would only finish the game with 47 yards on seven completions, but protected the ball well and again, made big plays.

Youngstown State Pounds Illinois State, 58-21, To Go To 6-1

IMG_1710

Youngstown State University looked as good as they have all season in destroying Illinois State, 58-21, in front of a good crowd of over 16,000.  Kurt Hess ran the offense as well as he ever has in leading the way and put up a career-high 311 passing yards in the win.

“It was a fun game, we had a good week of preparation.  The offensive line played great, and we were clicking”, said Hess.

Illinois State took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards to take a 7-0 lead on a Collin Keoshian 2-yard touchdown scamper.  YSU would respond when Carson Sharbaugh motioned to the right and slid behind the defense for a two-yard catch that would tie the game.  Sharbaugh has played an increasingly important role in the offense the last few weeks.  He would be used in short yardage situations as a ball carrier and converted every chance he got to touch the ball into a Penguin first down.

“We executed our game plan”, said Jelani Berassa, who scored during the 31-point second quarter explosion.  ”Kurt was on point tonight.  Before the game, I told Kurt I felt something in him tonight, and he proved it tonight.  It felt good to get in the end zone.”

IMG_1803

The Penguins scored three touchdowns in a five minute span to take control of the game.  Hess found Andrew Williams from 40 yards out, then Martin Ruiz scored on a 26-yard run.  The third touchdown was a beautiful 67 yard strike from Hess to Marcel Caver.  The bomb completion was perfect as Hess hit Caver in stride with a ball that traveled about 45 yards in the air.  Caver put himself into another gear to create separation from the defender and never broke stride.

“It was a good one because I made him {Caver} chase it.  He ran it down”, said Hess. “We accepted the challenge as a team and we can be as good as were on offense two years ago.  Sometimes we get penalties, we need to continue to iron it out.”

Illinois State tried to rally as Cameron Meridith caught a 73-yarder from Blake Winkler.   That would make the score 28-14 in favor of the Penguins.

The rally was short lived for the Redbirds.  Joey Cejudo nailed a 38-yard field goal to increase the lead to 31-14.  With thirty seconds left in the half, Hess threw his fourth score to a fourth receiver – Jelani Berassa.  The pitch-and-catch would send the teams to the locker room with YSU ahead comfortably, 38-14.

IMG_1812

In the second half, the Penguins kept rolling.  Demond Hymes got in on the action as he carried the ball 5 yards for a score.  Hess would tack on another, this time on the ground, as the senior signal caller dashed into the end zone for a 16-yard score.

Marshaun Coprich scored a fourth quarter touchdown for Illinois State to make it 52-21.  Coprich would be the first running back to go over the 100-yard mark since the North Dakota State State game in Week 6 of the 2012 season.

The 59 points put up by YSU were the most points put up in a conference game ever by a Penguins team.  The old record was 56 against Western Illinois.  The defense played equally led by senior captain Donald D’Alesio who intercepted a pass.

“We buckled down and got after them”, said D’Alesio.  ”We have goals to get three turnovers a game.  We are playing much faster than we have been playing in the past.”

 

IMG_1823

Statistically, the Penguins were a juggernaut on offense.  Nick Liste did not put until there were two minutes left in the third quarter.  All of the preceding drives (eight) resulted in points.  Liste did get his moneys worth kicking the ball off as he booted each YSU kickoff into the end zone.  NFL bound?

Ruiz finished the game with 85 rushing yards on just eight carries before he left the game with what looked like a sprained ankle.  His replacement, Hymes, tallied nine carries for 65 yards.  Jody Webb got in on the act too.  The gifted transfer had a 21-yard touchdown run which seemed like he was twice as fast as anyone else on the field.

In the receiving department, Hess connected with eight different targets.  Leading the way was Caver with three catches for 99 yards.

“Obviously a good effort by our football team tonight” said Eric Wolford.  ”We need to keep getting bigger and bigger.  On third down, the other team should not be able to communicate.  We need that to continue to grow here.”

The Penguins will host Western Illinois next Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium.  Kickoff is set for 4 pm.

Trick Or Treat At Eastwood Field Set For October 23

charliebrowntricktreaters

The Mahoning Valley Scrappers and First Place Bank present the fifteenth annual “Trick or Treat” at Eastwood Field, with media partners 21 WFMJ, WBCB, and Hot 101.  The event will take place Wednesday, October 23rd from 6:00pm to 8:00pm.

“Trick or Treat” at Eastwood Field is a fun and safe way to celebrate Halloween for children age 12 and under.  Ticket quantities are limited and are available on a first come first served basis. Children and adults will require a ticket. Tickets are just $1 each and are available starting Monday, September 23rd at the Scrappers Team Office located at Eastwood Field.

The Scrappers are looking for area businesses to participate in this year’s “Trick or Treat” event. Businesses will receive table space on the Eastwood Field concourse.  This is a community event and a great way to promote your business to the public.  Early reservations are encouraged as space is limited. Please contact Annie Stoltenberg for complete details by calling 330-505-0000 or emailing astoltenberg@mvscrappers.com.

Phantoms Piccinich Earns USHL Offensive Player of The Week Award

Piccinich

JJ Piccinich continued the red-hot start to his sophomore season over the weekend, scoring three goals in a pair of road games in Iowa. The USHL took notice Monday, naming the Youngstown Phantoms forward its CCM Offensive Player.

This is the first time that Piccinich, who is currently ranked second in the USHL with six goals in as many games, has captured the league’s weekly honor.

“This is a tremendous testament to our league and a tremendous testament to JJ and the time he’s put into developing and becoming a better, more complete hockey player,” head coach Anthony Noreen said. “We’ve always known the goal-scoring was there, but his overall game has really developed and I think that’s why we’re seeing the early scoring output.”

Piccinich, 17, racked up three goals and added an assist as the Phantoms went winless over a short two-game road trip, dropping a 4-3 contest to the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders Friday and falling to the Waterloo Black Hawks 6-3 Saturday. The Paramus, N.J. native tallied a pair of goals Friday, including his league-leading fourth on the power play in the loss to the rival RoughRiders. The following night, Piccinich picked up the Phantoms’ first tally Saturday and grabbed a helper on rookie Maxim Letunovthird goal of the season later in the game.

YSU’s Chelsey Haney Named Horizon League Offensive Player of The Week

Haney-Chelsey

Youngstown State junior forward Chelsey Haney has been named the Horizon League Women’s Soccer Offensive Player of the Week, the league announced on Monday.  This is Haney’s first player-of-the-week honor of her career and the first award for the Penguins this season.

The last Youngstown State player to earn offensive player-of-the-week laurels was Rachel Morrison in 2012.

Haney scored the game-winning goal to lift the Penguins to a 2-1 victory of Green Bay on Oct. 5 at Farmers National Bank Field.

Haney fired six shots at the Phoenix, including four on goal. Her goal came on a breakaway on the left side of the box and powered a shot into the top right corner at the 51:31 mark

Haney, 2012 All-Horizon Leauge Second-Team and All-Newcomer Team choice, has scored two goals this season and both have been game-winners.

The Penguins (3-8-1, 1-1 Horizon League) visit Oakland (4-7-1, 0-2), Saturday, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m.

Youngstown State Off To A 2-0 Conference Start, 35-24 Road Winnners

ruiz-td-run

Youngstown State continued attempting to make believers out of skeptics on Saturday.    The Penguins won the turnover count, ultimately resulting in winning the game against Indiana State, 35-24 to raise the record to 5-1 and 2-0 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference standings.

Martin Ruiz, who has emerged as the feature back, continued his consistent production as he scored three times from 44, 13, and six yards out.  Ruiz would finish the game with 141 of YSU’s 196 rushing yards on 23 carries.

The turning point of the game was a 95-yard interception return for a touchdown by Jameel Smith (below).  Indiana State was threatening to take the lead when Smith picked off Mike Perish and went almost the length of the entire field to completely kill the Sycamores momentum and giving the Penguins a 14-3 lead.

smith-int

The Penguins were ahead 21-10 at the half when the weather got ugly.  A thunderstorm rolled through and would delay the game 75 minutes.

After the lengthy delay, Kurt Hess found Christian Bryan for a two yard score that would increase the Penguin lead to 35-10.  Hess played his consistent brand of football for the Guins not turning the ball over and making plays while protecting the ball.  He would finish the game with 14 completions in 23 attempts for 164 yards.

Hess also reached yet another milestone.  Needing only five yards entering the game, he broke a record held by Tom Zetts for passing yards and total offense.

Indiana State racked up some yards as the Penguins were giving small yardage in exchange for clock in the fourth quarter.

Perish, the Sycamore quarterback, entered the game boasting the best passing game in the conference, but when a team is 1-4, many yards get compiled in late game situations when you are trailing.  He would finish the game with 392 yards and three touchdowns.

defense-ins

Highly touted running back, Shakir Bell, was held in check by a stingy Penguins run defense.  Bell would finish the contest with seven carries for 17 yards and didn’t even lead the Sycamores in rushes.

Next up for YSU (5-1, 2-0) is Illinois State.  The Redbirds defeated Western Illinois 35-21 to even their conference record at 1-1.  The home game will mark the first time during the Eric Wolford era that a YSU team will be riding a two game road winning streak.

#22 YSU vs Indiana State Preview

IMG_9485

Two seasons ago, Youngstown State University (4-1, 1-0) learned what Indiana State’s Shakir Bell was all about as he racked up over 250 rushing yards in the game, mostly in the first half.  Bell reached a milestone, going over the 4,000 yard career plateau last week in a heartbreaking loss.

Last season, Youngstown State finished the season on a high note, defeating the Sycamores at home in the season finale, 27-6.

Notable in last season’s win was the absence of Bell in the first half.  Some sources say Bell was held out because he was injured, which is inaccurate.  Bell was withheld from starting the game for disciplinary reasons.  He was plenty healthy when he ran the ball 18 times for 54 yards.

For the Penguins to win, the biggest key to a victory is to shut Bell down, period.  Mike Sanford, in his first season at the helm for the Sycamores is a smart enough coach to know where the ISU bread is buttered.

IMG_9464

The Penguins have to utilize the momentum they built in the second half comeback last week against a very hard-nosed Southern Illinois team.  Kurt Hess has to continue to protect the ball and make smart decisions.  The Penguins defense, led by captains Dom Rich and Donald D’Alesio will have to stay focused on shutting Bell down and playing with the same intensity that they used in the second half last week.

If the Penguins are successful in neutralizing Bell to some extent, they will have succeeded in taking Indiana State out of their comfort zone and will dictate the tempo of the game.

The Penguins last started MVFC play 2-0 in 2006 when they went on to win their first three contests. In the previous 16 years, YSU has opened Valley play 2-0 on four previous occasions – 1999, 2000, 2005 and 2006. It was a combined 20-6 in league play those years.