The Youngstown State University Penguins look to bounce back from a two-game skid and hop into a playoff spot with a win against South Dakota State University.
Coming off a tough home loss to two-time defending National Champions North Dakota State, 35-17, the Penguins are looking to turn the page and move on.
“I think we’re handling it real well. We had some senior guys step up and talk to some of the younger guys and let them know that everything is still in front of us,” senior Dom Rich said in Tuesday’s press conference. “If we get a win here, we’re in the playoffs, and that’s our goal.”
This will be a tough matchup for YSU (8-3, 5-2). They haven’t beaten South Dakota since 2007. The revenge bug is in the air for Rich who will be playing in his last regular season home game as a Penguin.
“Since I’ve been here, I haven’t beat them, and that’s kind of fuel for the fire. I want to go out there Saturday and beat these guys,” Rich said.
The Penguins are battling for a playoff spot in this game. If they win, they are in, but if they lose, it will be more difficult to get into the postseason.
“Everyone understands the situation. If we lose, we don’t control our destiny — if we’re in the playoffs or not — but if we win, we’re in,” senior Dale Peterman said.
Lately, YSU hasn’t exactly been the pinnacle of health. Senior quarterback Kurt Hess was sidelined with an ankle injury last week, but he is expected to play. Sophomore quarterback Dante Nania has a grade II shoulder separation, and junior cornerback Julius Childs is questionable.
“Luck hasn’t been our way we have had some injuries,” Peterman said. “We weren’t 100 percent, but hopefully we can comeback healthy this week and be ready to go.”
The Penguins will need to be as healthy as possible come this week. They play the second-best passing offense in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and an offense that is rated in the top four.
YSU will have its hands full with the Jackrabbits’ junior running back Zach Zenner who has totaled 1,509 yards and 18 touchdowns this season.
“Zenner has kind of been the face of the Missouri Valley as far as running backs go,” head coach Eric Wolford said.
The Penguins are treating this game like a playoff matchup. They all know what is at stake, and trying to make the playoffs is the ultimate goal.
“This is the first round of the playoffs for us,” Rich said. “This is a must win for us and I hope we have the support from the community.”
YSU is in control of its own destiny this week like they have wanted to be all year. Wolford said that if they know if they take care of business that they will control their own destiny.
The Penguins know that this is a tough matchup. They play a hot South Dakota team who is coming off of three straight wins against conference opponents and five straight wins against the Penguins.
“We’re going to go out there with a chip on our shoulder, play to our abilities, be more physical than them and hopefully get the ‘w’ on Saturday,” Rich said.
Wolford feels the intensity for this game and notices it at practice.
“Their focus on Monday was razor sharp. They know what is at stake, and they want to play,” he said. “We are set out to make a run to getting in the playoffs; that is our goal.”
The Penguins take on the Jackrabbits at Stambaugh Stadium at 2 p.m. The game will be on WKBN 570 AM, iHeartRadio, ESPN3.com and MyYTV.