Games against Illinois State University haven’t exactly been the easiest for head coach Eric Wolford’s career at Youngstown State University.
In his first game against the Redbirds in 2010, the Penguins lost after Illinois State completed a last-second touchdown to win the game. The next games, in 2011 and 2012, were both decided by seven points with each team winning at home.
But this year, under the lights at Stambaugh Stadium and backed by 16,593 boisterous fans that kept the Ice Castle rocking throughout the game, the Penguins won big, putting up 28 unanswered points in the first half to win, 59-21.
“Before the game started, we were doing warmups, and I said to Kurt [Hess], ‘I don’t know what it is, but I feel something here today,’” senior wide receiver Jelani Berassa said. “And he went out there and proved it, so I guess I was right.”
Hess said the past three years’ experiences helped YSU (6-1, 3-0) prevail.
“Realizing that they’re going to play four quarters and they’re going to give us all they got because that’s what we’ve seen the past couple years,” he said. “We never took our foot off the gas, we just kept pedaling, we just kept working and realized that at any moment, they could come back and make this a game.”
Hess finished the game with 311 passing yards and four touchdowns, including a 67-yard pass to sophomore receiver Marcel Caver. He also had 21 rushing yards, including a 16-yard touchdown run before coming out of the game in the third quarter.
“That’s what you expect from Kurt. Kurt Hess is a good football player,” Wolford said.
On top of the other school records that Hess owns, he is part of one more after tonight — most points scored in a conference game.
The victory keeps YSU at number two in the Missouri Valley Football Conference standings, behind unanimous No. 1 North Dakota State University.
“At some point, you got to start to believe and this team believes, and hopefully we can get all you to believe and this team will be in good shape,” Wolford said.
The crowd noise needs to keep up for next week’s game against Western Illinois University and throughout the rest of the season, Wolford said.
“We need to keep getting bigger and bigger. On third down, this place should be so loud that they can’t communicate to each other. That’s the way it is when we play other schools,” Wolford said. “It’s a community effort. I’ve said from day one that we play for Youngstown. We play for everyone in this community.”