FINAL FOUR: Penguins prepare for season’s toughest stretch

Youngstown State University senior cornerback Dale Peterman (21) signals to the sidelines during a matchup against Western Illinois University on October 19. The Penguins beat the Leathernecks, 24-14, improving their record to 7-1. They will travel to South Dakota to face the University of South Dakota Coyotes on Saturday. Photo by Dustin Livesay/ The Jambar.

Youngstown State University senior cornerback Dale Peterman (21) signals to the sidelines during a matchup against Western Illinois University on October 19. The Penguins beat the Leathernecks, 24-14, improving their record to 7-1. They will travel to South Dakota to face the University of South Dakota Coyotes on Saturday. Photo by Dustin Livesay/ The Jambar.

Questions surround the Youngstown State University football team after its bye week with a 7-1 start and winning its first four Missouri Valley Football Conference
(MVFC) games.

So far, the answers are positive.

For head coach Eric Wolford, he was able to do recruiting work last weekend as well as take time off. He went to a wedding on Saturday, hung out with his children and ate a delicious bowl of chili cooked by his
wife Melinda.

“It was Texas style — no beans, all meat,” Wolford said.

For the players, it was a time to refresh and look at game film early as they prepare for a road game at the University of South Dakota
on Saturday.

“We were able to get ahead on the South Dakota film and game planning a little bit, but also take a look back at ourselves, which I think helped,” senior quarterback Kurt Hess said. “Going back to fundamentals, looking at our individual abilities and seeing what we still need to do better because it is a long season. We got a lot of games ahead of us, and we need to keep improving.”

The 10th-ranked Penguins last competed on Oct. 19. They defeated Western Illinois University, 24-14, at Stambaugh Stadium. They head into South Dakota on a five-game winning streak, the last four coming against MVFC opponents.

YSU defeated the Coyotes (4-4, 3-2), 13-10, in the Ice Castle last year. Saturday will mark the second meeting of all time between the clubs and YSU’s first trip to the Dakota Dome in school history.

“It is different, and you have to kind of adjust to it,” Hess said. “It kind of takes a couple throws, couple of times seeing the ball in the air and getting used to the environment. In the end, you’ll find your place and realize that, in between the lines, that it’s just football.”

The other factor is the Penguins will play in a dome for the first time this year. The Coyotes are 3-0 in their hometown. Their last home game was a 17-14 victory over Indiana State University on Oct. 12.

Helping prepare for the environment, the Penguins are practicing in the Watson and Tressel Training Site this week.

“When the ball’s in the air, you don’t have to worry about the wind,” senior cornerback Dale Peterman said. “It’s more of a controlled climate. I just think the hardest part of going into South Dakota is that we’ve never been there, but any away game in this conference is going to be tough.”

In their last game, the Penguins took a 17-14 lead over Western Illinois on a Joey Cejudo field goal with 11 minutes and 14 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

After a missed field goal by WIU, the Penguins took advantage and scored a touchdown to take a 10-point lead. Junior tight end Nate Adams dove and caught the touchdown pass from Hess.

Freshman running back Martin Ruiz ran for 199 yards on 21 carries and one touchdown. Hess threw for 47 yards and two scores, the first to junior Christian Bryan in the second quarter.

The Coyotes are allowing 172.4 rushing yards per game and 125.1 passing yards per game. On offense, they have scored 136 points (72 in the fourth quarter).

“They’re going to try to control us, try to keep our big plays down and not give us a lot on the outsides,” Hess said. “We’re going to have to grind it out and play physical. We’re going to have to manage the game and keep the turnovers down.”

Kickoff is at 2 p.m. and the game can be seen on WBCB and espn3.com. It can also be heard on 570 WKBN and iHeartRadio.com.

YSU controls its own destiny heading into this season-ending, four-game stretch. Only YSU and North Dakota State University remain unbeaten in the conference. The Coyotes are tied with Illinois State University for
third place.

“We like having that control, and that’s our mindset right now,” Wolford said. “We know we have to get better in all three phases of the game as we continue to progress in order to reach our goals.”

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