By Brian Yauger
A week and a half removed from their season-opening win, the Youngstown State University football team looks to continue that momentum when it takes the field Saturday for its home opener against Howard University.
“We had a platform to build off from the first game, so we’re comfortable getting this bye week and going into Howard,” safety Zaire Jones said.
YSU started their opening game trailing 7-0, but Nathan Mays’ touchdown pass set up the Penguins to go on a tear. The Penguins scored 31 unanswered points to take down the Samford University Bulldogs 45-22 in the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff Classic.
“It gave us a start,” Penguins coach Bo Pelini said. “That’s what we needed, and we got the win. We did some good things; there’s some things we needed to work on. We just need to keep grinding it out and get better.”
In addition to winning on the field, showcasing the team in front of a large audience was a win off the field for the Penguins as well.
“We got a lot of positive feedback on social media and from recruits,” Pelini said. “A lot of people saw our team and our program and what we’re about. It’s good for the university, good for the area, good for our team and good for the program.”
YSU has already matched its interception total from last season, picking off the Bulldogs three times. That’s also the highest number of interceptions in a game since 2009 when the Penguins played Indiana State University.
In his debut with the program, Jones intercepted two passes and made five tackles. Jones joined the team after transferring from Vanderbilt University.
“I think the win built our confidence going forward into the season,” Jones said. “Getting that first win under our belt and getting some trust in each other and believing that we have a great team.”
The opposing Howard Bison dropped their season opener 79-0 to the University of Maryland, but that doesn’t mean the Penguins are taking their opponent lightly.
“It’s hard to win a game no matter what,” center Matt Jones said. “It’s college football. Every game won is an accomplishment so getting confidence is a big one.”
After last season’s home-opener loss to Butler University, their first home opener loss in 23 years, the Penguins are looking forward to getting their 24th win in 25 years and avenging last season’s loss.
Coming off a 4-7 record, the Penguins are looking to improve drastically, and Pelini knows there’s more work to do. It won’t take one game to get the team on the right track going forward.
“We have to use each day to get better,” Pelini said. “I think our kids are bringing a great energy to the practice field. They’re working hard at it; they understand that we have a long road ahead of us as far as what we have to do, how we have to work and how much we have to accomplish.”
Kickoff against the Bison is set for 2:05 p.m.