By Jeffery Brown
Last week’s loss to Illinois State University could potentially leave the Youngstown State University football team’s playoff hopes in the arms of the FCS selection committee, which denied the team a season ago.
15th-ranked YSU (7-3 and 4-2) is currently tied for third place in the Missouri Valley Conference, which has six of the league’s 10 teams ranked in the FCS top 25. It is believed that at least three MVC teams will make the playoffs, with a chance that four could make it in.
If the committee only choses to take three teams from the MVC, then YSU could be on the outside looking in. As it currently stands, YSU is tied with the University of Northern Iowa for third place in the conference, but this could prove troublesome for YSU as UNI has more marquee wins, including wins against the top two teams in the MVC: Illinois State University and North Dakota State University.
“I think five wins this year will get any team in. If it doesn’t, then there’s a problem,” Head Coach Eric Wolford said. “If you play in the Missouri Valley Conference, and you get five wins, you should be in the playoffs.”
If Wolford is right that five wins will get the Penguins into the playoffs, then YSU will need to win one of its two remaining games. That will not be easy, however, as YSU faces two ranked opponents — 23rd-ranked Indiana State University this weekend at home and fourth-ranked North Dakota State University the following week in Fargo, North Dakota.
Indiana State (6-4, 3-3) will be looking to rebound from a 32-12 loss to South Dakota State University last weekend. The Sycamores were ahead 9-7 going into halftime last weekend, but allowed 25 unanswered points to SDSU.
The Sycamores are led by senior quarterback Mike Perish, who is one of the best quarterbacks in school history. Perish is second all-time in Indiana State’s career passing yards list and is tied for first place in career touchdowns with 40. Perish is also first in the MVC in passing yards this season with 2,249 yards and is averaging 249.9 yards per game.
“He’s pretty good. He does good job of running their offense … running their system,” Wolford said. “He’s got a very accurate arm, and then schematically they stretch you as far as making you defend the whole field.”
YSU defensive end Derek Rivers said the defense must play physical and get pressure on Perish for the Penguins defense to be successful. YSU ranks sixth in the conference in sacks with 22, 13 of those sacks coming from Rivers. This is the third most single season sacks in school history.
“They run a pretty fast tempo offense, so if you can get him out of rhythm you got a pretty good chance of winning the game. So getting pressure on him is going to be big from our D-line this week,” Rivers said.
It will be an emotional day for the Penguins, as it is the final regular season game for 11 seniors, including 9 starters. Stephen Page, senior center, says that Saturday will be a very special day for him.
“Being a hometown guy, it means a lot to me,” Page said. “I really hope the fans come out and see us because it would really mean a lot to me to make a special memory — to be able to finish my regular season career at Stambaugh Stadium on high note.”
Kickoff against Indiana State is set for 2 p.m. on Saturday.