By Jeff Brown
A year ago, the Youngstown State University football team came into the final three games of the season undefeated in conference play and appeared to have an outstanding chance at making the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Unfortunately for the Penguins, the team hit a slump and lost its final three games and failed to make the postseason.
This year’s team finds itself in a similar situation. With three games remaining, the 10th-ranked Penguins are 7-2 and 4-1 in Missouri Valley Conference play and, just like a season ago, are in control of their own destiny.
“I think last year we may have been looking into the future a little bit too much,” tight end Nate Adams said. “We really just got to focus on being one game at a time. Not looking at any rankings, any playoff predictions, any of that stuff. We just got to take care of this weekend.”
It is once again a tough road for the Penguins as all three of their remaining opponents are ranked in the top 25 of the Sports Network Poll, including a matchup in the final game of the season against top-ranked North Dakota State University.
This weekend YSU travels to Normal, Illinois to take on the 12th-ranked Illinois State University Red Birds. ISU (7-1 and 4-1) is coming off their first loss of the season, a 42-24 loss against the University of Northern Iowa. A win would put YSU in sole possession of second place in the conference and could set up a potential matchup for first place against NDSU in two weeks.
ISU is led by a strong running game, highlighted by running back Marshaun Coprich. He has a least 100 yards rushing in every game this season and had 27 carries for 166 yards and three touchdowns in last weekend’s loss to UNI.
YSU defeated ISU 59-21 last season at home, but have not won in Normal since 2006. However, the Penguins have been great on the road as of late — winning six of their last seven road games against conference opponents dating back to last season.
“It’s not easy to go on the road and have the opposing crowd screaming on third downs, getting loud and stuff like that,” senior wide receiver Jelani Berassa said. “Our focus is just on each play. Every play we just try to tune those things out.”
Coach Eric Wolford said he likes the road trips because he likes being able to be around his players all day on Thursday and Friday, as opposed to only being around them for a couple hours when the team plays at home.
“When we’re at home we just have them for about three and a half to four hours on a Friday as opposed to having them all day,” Wolford said.
Kickoff against ISU is set for Saturday at 2 p.m.