The 15th-ranked Youngstown State football team returns home on Saturday to take on top-ranked and unbeaten North Dakota State. Kickoff at Stambaugh Stadium is set for 2 p.m. The game is available on WKBN 570 AM, iHeartRadio, ESPN3.com and MyYTV (tape delay).
YSU (8-2 overall and 5-1 in the MVFC) had its six-game winning streak snapped losing 22-20 at UNI last Saturday. The Penguins led 14-3 at halftime and 14-6 early in the fourth quarter only to see the Panthers rally. YSU trailed 19-14 before a Kurt Hess four-yard touchdown run gave the Guins a 20-19 advantage with 4:41 remaining. But UNI took all the time off the clock and, with four seconds left, Tyler Sievertsen came on to make a 37-yard field goal as time expired.
NDSU (9-0 and 6-0) has won 18 straight games following a 28-10 win over Illinois State at the Fargodome last Saturday. Senior QB Brock Jensen threw three touchdown passes in the victory. NDSU outgained Illinois State 394-196 in the contest. Entering the game with the Penguins, the Bison rank first in the FCS in total defense, first in first-downs defense, second in scoring defense, second in rushing defense, second in pass-efficiency defense, second in third-down conversion defense and are fourth in fewest passing yards allowed.
Saturday's contest has postseason implications for both teams. An NDSU victory gives the Bison the outright conference title and the MVFC's automatic bid to the postseason. The Penguins still control their own postseason destiny. A win over NDSU followed with a victory against South Dakota State in the season finale gives the Guins the conference's automatic bid and no worse than the share of the league crown.
Last year in a Fargo, the Bison knocked off the unbeaten Penguins 48-7. The game was tied at seven before NDSU scored the last 41 points of the game with the back-breaker coming on a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown by Marcus Williams in the second quarter. This is the first meeting between the teams in Youngstown since 2010.
The Penguins play their final game of the regular season at Stambaugh Stadium against South Dakota State on Nov. 23.
• The Penguins lost on a final-play field goal for the first time since Sept. 27, 2008, in a 31-28 loss to Liberty.
• It was the second time YSU dropped a 22-20 decision to the Panthers on a final-play field goal. At Stambaugh Stadium in 2004, Brian Wingert made a 31-yard field goal with no time on the clock. YSU had taken a 20-19 lead with a touchdown with 3:53 left.
• Senior QB Kurt Hess had two rushing touchdowns in a game for the first time in his career. Hess scored on a four-yard run in the fourth quarter and had a three-yard score in the first quarter.
• Freshman TB Martin Ruiz had a season-high 24 carries against the Panthers. Ruiz netted 88 yards on the ground and had 179 all-purpose yards, which included 93 on kickoff returns.
• YSU posted a 3-1 record in conference road games. Three of the four contests were decided by a total of seven points.
• For the second straight game, YSU's starting offensive line played the entire game together. The unit played all 61 snaps, a week after playing all 79 at USD.
• Hess made his 43rd straight start and had his 24th 200-yard plus passing performance, an ongoing school record.
• He has thrown a touchdown pass in nine straight games.
• Senior CB Dale Peterman had the second interception of his career. He returned it 51 yards in the second quarter.
• It was only the second time under Coach Eric Wolford that YSU lost when allowing fewer than 27 points in a game.
• YSU has dropped nine contests to the Panthers that have been decided by four points or fewer.
UNI PK Tyler Sievertsen kicked a 34-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Panthers past the Penguins, 22-20, last Saturday at the UNI-Dome.
After falling behind 3-0, the Penguins slowly built a 14-3 lead. QB Kurt Hess gave YSU its first lead of the contest scoring on three-yard run with 6:42 left in the first quarter. Hess connected with Andre Stubbs on an eight-yard score in the second quarter.
UNI pulled within 14-6 on a 37-yard Sievertsen field goal in the third quarter. Then the Panthers scored twice in a 3:02 span to grab the lead on touchdown passes from Brion Carnes to Chad Owens.
Down 19-14, the Guins rallied taking a 20-19 lead with 4:41 left on a four-yard Hess run. But UNI marched 56 yards and killed the remainder of the clock to set up the winning kick attempt with four seconds left.
Last Meeting vs. NDSU
YSU committed three costly turnovers and could never get back on track after a second quarter pick-six, suffering a 48-7 loss in the Fargodome at top-ranked North Dakota State last October.
The Penguins fumbled on the first play of the game, and NDSU recovered the ball at the YSU 31-yard line. After nearly turning ball over inside the one, NDSU's John Crockett scored to put the Bison in front 7-0.
The Penguins answered on their ensuing drive as Kurt Hess found Carson Sharbaugh for a one-yard scoring toss. NDSU struck back when Brock Jensen hit Zach Vraa on a 46-yard pass just 1:45 later, and the Bison never trailed again. Down 14-7, the Penguins were at the NDSU 16 when Marcus Williams intercepted a Hess pass at the two-yard line and returned it 98 yards for a score.
The Bison scored two touchdowns within a span of 56 seconds late in the first half to put the game out of reach. NDSU kicked two field goals, and Ryan Smith returned a punt 76 yards for a score in the second half.
Until last year, the Penguins/Bison series was full of nailbiters. NDSU dispatched of the Guins 48-7 in the Fargodome in a contest that featured top-five ranked teams.
The Penguins still own a 4-3 series lead over North Dakota State. The first six games had been decided by a total of 27 points, with eight points being the largest margin of victory (YSU 32-24 in 2008).
In 2010 at Stambaugh Stadium, each team scored in the final minute as NDSU pulled out a 35-29 victory. In 2008 at Stambaugh, YSU intercepted a pass in the end zone with 22 seconds left to seal a 32-24 win. YSU won in Youngstown 12-10 in 1973.
Against Top-Ranked Foes
YSU has four wins over the top-ranked team in school history.
The 27-24 win at North Dakota State in 2011 marked the first time in school history that the Penguins defeated No. 1-ranked team during the regular season. NDSU has been ranked No. 1 in each of its last two meetings with YSU.
The other wins all came in the postseason – 1997 at Villanova (37-34), 1993 vs. Georgia Southern (34-14) and 1991 at Nevada (30-28). All time, YSU is 4-6 when playing the No. 1 team at some point during the season.
The last top-ranked team to visit Stambaugh Stadium was Southern Illinois in 2004. The Penguins lost that contest 37-2.
This is only the third known time that the No. 1 squad has been to Stambaugh Stadium. The other was Georgia Southern in the 1993 playoffs.
UNI Rebound Trend
The Penguins have bounced back following their last three losses in the UNI-Dome with wins. In 2011, YSU lost 21-17 at UNI before winning 27-24 at NDSU the next week. In 2009, YSU lost 28-7 at UNI before beating Illinois State and winning at NDSU to close out the season. In 2007, YSU lost 14-13 and rebounded with wins over Indiana State and Western Illinois.
This season, the Penguins have played five games that have basically been decided by fourth-quarter plays. YSU is 4-1 in those contests after falling at UNI last Saturday.
In the opener, YSU hung on for 28-10 win over Dayton after starting the quarter with a 21-10 lead and UD inside the YSU five. At Southern Illinois, the Guins trailed 27-13 before rallying for a 28-27 win. Against Western Illinois, YSU was tied at 14 before scoring the final 10 points in the 24-14 win. At South Dakota, YSU rallied to lead 31-27, trailed 34-31, then won 38-34. At UNI, the Penguins led 14-6, went on top 20-19, only to lose 22-20.
The Penguins had a six-game winning streak stopped by the Panthers. It was the longest for the program since 2000. The Guins had won eight consecutive conference games dating back to last November, the longest streak in school history. YSU had won 11 straight against FCS foes dating back to last November. The Penguins had won four straight road conference games and were off to their best league start in school history at 5-0.
League Best Start
The Penguins opened MVFC play 5-0 for the first time in school history.
Only three times in school history had YSU won its first four conference games - 2013, 2005 and 1999. In 2005 YSU was 5-2 in league play, and the Guins were 5-1 in 1999. YSU tied for the league title in 2005 and was second in 1999. The school record for conference wins in a season is six (6-1 in 2006).
The Penguins have won eight games or more for the 18th in school history.
The eight wins this season are the most since 11 in the playoff campaign of 2006.
Nine seems to be a magic number when it comes to the postseason, adding extra importance to the final two games.
Eight regular-season wins helped the Guins advance to the playoffs in 1974, 1987 and 1989. Since 1996, the Guins have won exactly eight regular-season games three times and just missed the postseason in all three years.
For the third straight year the Guins have won more games than the previous season. After three wins in 2010, the Penguins won six in 2011. Last year, the Guins won seven contests for an improvement over the 2011 season. This year the Guins stand at eight wins with two regular-season games left.
The Penguins have been doing a great job of making the "Ice Castle" a fortress once again. This season the Guins are 5-0 at home and, combined with last year's 5-1 mark, they have won 10 of their last 11 at Stambaugh Stadium.
In five home games this year, the Guins have outscored opponents 237-75. YSU is averaging 47.4 points per game this season while allowing just 15 a contest.
Additionally, the Guins have trailed for just 4:13 (vs. Illinois State) out of 300 minutes of football at Stambaugh Stadium this season.
The lone loss the past two seasons was a 38-21 defeat to Southern Illinois.
Six With Two-Plus TDs
The Penguins have six players, who have caught at least two touchdowns, making it tough to have defenses focus on just one-or-two players.
Leading the way is Andre Stubbs who caught his fourth touchdown pass of the season at UNI. Marcel Caver and Nate Adams are second on the team with three. Christian Bryan, Andrew Williams and Carson Sharbaugh each have a pair.
The last time the Guins had six players with two-or-more receiving touchdowns in the same year was 1990 (in 12 games). Last year, YSU had four players catch two-or-more with Will Shaw leading the way with five.
Red Zone Means Go
The Penguins have scored on 26 straight possessions in the red zone. The last time YSU failed to score in the red zone was in the second quarter vs. Duquesne (turn over on downs).
The Guins lead the FCS in red-zone percentage 95.2 percent on the campaign (40-of-42). Coastal Carolina is second and Mercer is third. YSU has 36 touchdowns and four field goals in the red zone this season.
In Missouri Valley Football Conference play, YSU is at 100 percent with 22 scores on 22 trips. The Guins have 20 touchdowns and two field goals. YSU has mixed it up scoring nine rushing touchdowns and 11 passing.
The only other time the Guins did not score in the red zone this year was the final possession of the 67-13 win over Morehead State when they reached the 16-yard line before taking a knee to end the game.
Bryan Eclipses 100
Junior WR Christian Bryan has 101 career receptions after hauling in two passes for 32 yards at UNI.
Bryan became just the 14th player in school history to eclipse the 100-reception mark in a career.
Dave DelSignore (1966-69) ranks 10th in school history with 102 grabs, and Bryan sits one behind him.
Bryan is tied for 11th in school history for career touchdown receptions with his 11 TDs. He is one of 13 players in YSU history with 11-or-more TD grabs in a career.
Twenty-two of his last 25 catches this year have come in the last seven games.
Ruiz Nearing 1,000 Yards
Freshman TB Martin Ruiz is just six yards shy of reaching 1,000 for his first season with the Penguins. Ruiz has 994 yards on 164 attempts and 14 touchdowns.
When Ruiz goes over 1,000 yards, it will mark the fourth straight year the Guins have had a 1,000-yard rusher. Jamaine Cook went over 1,000 in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
With two games to play, he has set the school record for rushing yards by a freshman and the mark for touchdowns by a freshman.
The previous yards mark for a freshman was established by Kamryn Keys back in 2008. Keys had 804 yards that year. The previous rushing touchdown mark was 11 set by Adrian Brown (1996) and Adaris Bellamy (2010).
Ruiz has tied the school mark for carries by a freshman originally set by Brown in 1996.
4th-Quarter Road Rallies
For the first time since 1999, the Penguins have had two fourth-quarter comebacks on the road in the same season. This year, YSU rallied from a 27-14 fourth-quarter deficit to win at Southern Illinois and overcame a late 34-31 deficit to beat South Dakota 38-34 in the final two minutes.
In 1999, YSU won at Montana in the playoffs, and at UNI and Indiana State in the regular season. The Guins had five fourth-quarter comebacks that season.
The Penguins won three of four conference road games this season beating South Dakota, Southern Illinois and Indiana State while losing at UNI.
The three wins are the most since winning all four in 2006.
YSU last knocked off Indiana State and Southern Illinois on the road in the same year in 2001. Additionally, the win over South Dakota was the first in the state since 1974.
20 TDs Through the Air
The Penguins - and more specifically - QB Kurt Hess - have thrown 20 touchdown passes this season. It marks just the fifth time in school history the Guins have had 20-or-more TD passes via the air in a campaign. The others are 2011 (27), 1994 (22), 1999 (21) and 1979 (21). Hess was the starting QB for YSU in 2011 and threw for 26 scores.
YSU also has 30 touchdowns rushing, the most for the program since 2010 (also 30).
Through 10 games, the Penguins have thrown for 2,151 yards and rushed for 2,140 yards. YSU has run the ball 391 times and thrown 249 passes in those contests. The Guins are averaging 39.1 rushing attempts per game and 24.9 passes a contest.
Ruiz Making Big Impact
Freshman TB Martin Ruiz leads all FCS freshmen in touchdowns scored with 14 and rushing yards per game (99.4). Ruiz ranks ninth in the FCS in points scored per game with 9.0 (90 points in 10 games).
He is tied for 11th in the FCS with 14 rushing scores while the next closest freshman running back is Charlotte's Kalif Phillps with nine.
Ruiz has started the past five contests and has combined to rush for 644 yards on 99 attempts, averaging 6.5 yards per carry with seven touchdowns.
He has a touchdown in eight of 10 games this year (did not score at Southern Illinois and UNI).
Another Passing Record
Senior QB Kurt Hess picked up one more career YSU passing record at UNI, the school mark for most passes attempted.
Hess has now attempted 1,107 passes in his YSU career. Of those attempts, he has completed 693 for a percentage of 62.6.
In making his 43rd career start, Hess moved past Jeff Ryan into second place all-time. He trails Tom Zetts' mark of 47 and could only catch him with two postseason starts.
With his 311-yard passing performance in the win over Illinois State on Oct. 12, Hess joined former YSU QBs Trenton Lykes, Denny Klembara, Brandon Summers and Ron Jaworski as players who have multiple 300-yard passing games in their careers. Hess's previous best was 306 set against Missouri State in 2011.
Hess owns school marks with 73 career touchdown passes, 24 200-yard passing games, 203.1 passing yards per game, a passer rating of 145.77 and TDs responsible for with 85.
>400 Yards/27 Points
The Penguins have had more than 400 yards of total offense in 23 of the 43 games under Head Coach Eric Wolford. YSU has eclipsed the mark in five games this season. Of his 43 contests, YSU has had more than 300 yards in 37 of them. Additionally, the Guins have scored 27-or-more points in 31 of Wolford's 43 games at the helm.
Numbers Under Wolf
After 43 games, Head Coach Eric Wolford is now 24-19. YSU has won 19 of its last 27 games under Wolford since the mid-point of the 2011 season. Both losses when allowing 27 or fewer points have come at UNI (21-17 in 2011 and 22-20 last Saturday). A couple of good notes have come from his first 43 games regarding wins and losses:
• YSU is 12-0 when allowing 20 points or fewer
• YSU is 21-2 when allowing 27 points or fewer
• YSU is 22-3 when allowing 33 points or fewer
More Forced Turnovers
In just six conference games, the Penguins have forced 10 turnovers. YSU has intercepted five passes and recovered five fumbles.
Last year in eight conference games, the defense created seven turnovers. Four of those came in the final two games. In the last eight conference games, the Guins have forced 14 turnovers.
YSU has converted at a high success rate in the red zone under Head Coach Eric Wolford.
This year, YSU is 40-of-42 (95.2 percent) after going 4-for-4 vs. Dayton, 7-of-8 against Morehead State, 2-of-2 at Michigan State, 5-of-6 vs. Duquesne, 4-of-4 at Southern Illinois, 3-of-3 at Indiana State, 5-of-5 vs. Illinois State, 3-of-3 vs. Western Illinois, 4-of-4 at South Dakota and 3-of-3 at UNI. YSU has scored touchdowns on 36 of those 42 red-zone visits.
In his 43 games as coach, the Penguins are an amazing 158-for-178 (88.7 percent) inside the red zone.
The Penguins were 35-of-43 inside the red-zone in 2012 (81.7 percent).
In 47 visits in 2011, the Penguins scored 39 touchdowns and kicked three field goals. YSU scored a total of 280 points on 42 of those 47 visits (89.4 percent).
During Wolford's first campaign in 2010, YSU was 41-of-45 in the red zone (91.1 percent).
Hess in a Rhythm
Senior QB Kurt Hess has had solid outings the past nine contests.
In his last nine games, Hess is 142-of-218 for 1,965 yards, 20 touchdowns and two interceptions. He has a passing efficiency of a whopping 169.29.
On three occasions he has been named the MVFC Offensive Player of the Week. Hess received the honors following wins over Southern Illinois, Illinois State and South Dakota.
Against the Redbirds, he was 17-of-21 for 311 yards and four touchdowns.
At Southern Illinois he led YSU back from a 27-13 deficit in the fourth quarter and was 25-of-37 for 258 yards and four scores.
At South Dakota, he was 22-of-28 for 283 yards and two scores against the second-ranked pass defense in the FCS.
Kickers Have Been Strong
Senior P Nick Liste and junior PK Joey Cejudo have both been honored as MVFC Specialists of the Week - Cejudo against Morehead State and Liste at Michigan State and Western Illinois.
Liste is averaging 44.0 yards per punt on 41 attempts. As the kickoff specialist, he has 34 touchbacks in 67 kicks. This season, 50 percent of his kickoffs have been for touchbacks compared to 17 percent his first two years.
Cejudo has been solid converting 46-of-47 PAT tries and making field goals from 33, 34, 37, 38 and 40 yards. He made a season-long 40-yarder in the first quarter vs. Duquesne.
Picks On the Rise
The Penguins have intercepted nine passes, which is five more than they had in 11 games last year. The Guins had two interceptions against Dayton and Illinois State and one each against UNI, Western Illinois, Morehead State, Duquesne and Indiana State.
Including the final game of the season last year against Indiana State, YSU has 11 interceptions in the last 10 games. The Guins had two picks in the first 10 games a year ago.
Under Coach Eric Wolford, YSU has allowed just 48 sacks. Senior quarterback Kurt Hess has started all of those contests. Last season, YSU allowed a school-record low eight sacks.
The YSU offensive line has surrendered just 32 sacks in the last 33 games as well.
Only 10 times under Wolford and assistant coach Carmen Bricillo have the Guins allowed more than one sack, and four of came in 2010.
Four-TD Passing Games
Since Nov. 1, 2008, YSU quarterbacks Kurt Hess (six) and Brandon Summers (two) have combined to throw at least four touchdowns in a game eight times. That is a span of 58 games. Hess threw a school-record five touchdown passes vs. Missouri State in 2011. Also in 2011, Hess had four and Marc Kanetsky had one for a total of five against Western Illinois.
In school history before November 2008, a group of six quarterbacks combined for eight four-passing touchdown games. YSU had played 702 games up to that point in school history.
Adams TD Is A Good Thing
The Penguins are 5-0 when junior TE Nate Adams catches a touchdown pass in a game. This year he has scoring grabs against Western Illinois, Southern Illinois and Duquesne. In 2012 he had scoring grabs against UNI and South Dakota.
50-Plus Point Games
The Penguins have tied a school record with three 50-plus point games in a season. This year, YSU has scored 67 vs. Morehead State and 59 twice (Illinois State and Duquesne).
The only other campaign the Guins scored 50-or-more points three times during a season was in 1994. YSU had 63 in the playoffs against Alcorn State and had two 52-point contests (Buffalo and Slippery Rock).
Since Coach Eric Wolford took over, YSU has scored more than 50 points seven times.
Three is Still Important
Under Coach Eric Wolford, YSU is a combined 26-of-32 on field-goal attempts (81.3 percent).
First-year PK Joey Cejudo has made five-of-six attempts this season, including a long of 40 yards against Duquesne.
Last season, PK David Brown converted six-of-seven attempts, including a long of 47 yards against Indiana State. In 2011, the Penguins did not make a field goal in the first eight games before converting a 28-yard kick at UNI and two (33 and 30) at North Dakota State.
YSU was 12-of-14 in 2010.
Four-Takeaway win Streak
YSU has won 19 straight games when it forces at least four turnovers after forcing four in the win over Duquesne. The last loss was against UNI in 2006.
Since 2006, the Guins are 21-1 when they have at least four takeaways in a game. Last year, the single-game high was two turnovers forced, which came on four occasions. YSU caused three turnovers vs. Illinois State.
Top of the Liste
Senior punter Nick Liste continues to be a key contributor as punter and kickoff specialist.
Twice this year he has averaged more than 50 yards in a game - 51.0 vs. Dayton and 50.9 at Michigan State.
He is averaging 41.4 yards per punt in his career on 172 kicks. His average ranks first in school history by 0.5 yards ahead of Nick Xides' 40.9 set back in 1982-85.
This season, Liste has 13 punts of 50 yards or longer. His previous high for a year was eight in 2011. His average of 44.3 this season is two-and-a-half yards ahead of Xides' school mark of 41.8 set in 1985.
Handling kickoff duties, last year he had 18 touchbacks after having just three in 2011. Liste has 34 in this campaign.
As a junior, he averaged 40.7 yards per punt last season.
In the Squeakers
The Penguins' 28-27 win over Southern Illinois was their first one-point victory against a conference opponent since joining the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 1997. YSU had dropped two one-point decisions to UNI (2007 and 2008) and a one-point contest to the Salukis (2000). The Guins are 24-9 all-time in one-point contests.
Numbers of Note
• Turnover Margin: Since 1996, the Penguins are 114-25 when they win or tie in the turnover margin. When committing more turnovers, YSU is just 17-53.
Since 1990 YSU is:
• 142-18-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points in a game.
• 116-12 when rushing for 200-plus yards.
• 137-22 when scoring 28-or-more points.
• 73-8-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in a game.
• 166-12 when leading entering the fourth.
• 74-3-2 when holding opponents to 10 points-or-less in a game.
Up Next: South Dakota St.
YSU plays its final regular-season game on Nov. 23 against South Dakota State. Kickoff at Stambaugh Stadium is set for 2 p.m.