Penguins Take On Samford In First Round of FCS Playoffs

Penguins Take On Samford In First Round of FCS Playoffs

    The Youngstown State football team opens play in the 2016 FCS Playoffs against Samford on Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium. Kickoff for the first-round contest is set for 5 p.m. The game is available on WKBN 570 AM, iHeartRadio and ESPN3/WatchESPN App.
    YSU (8-3) ended the regular season on a high note with an impressive 65-20 win at Missouri State. The Penguins set school records for total offensive yards (747) and rushing yards (572) and most points scored in a road/conference game in the win. YSU jumped out to a 27-3 lead and never looked back in the contest. The Penguins had three tailbacks rush for more than 100 yards in the game led by reserve Joe Alessi who had 190 yards on just seven carries and scored twice. Martin Ruiz rushed for 183 yards on 19 carries and scored three times, while Jody Webb had 166 yards on 15 attempts and scored twice.
    Samford (7-4) enters the postseason following a tough 15-14 last-play loss at East Tennessee State last Saturday. On a windy afternoon both offenses battled the elements in the low scoring game. Samford built a 14-3 lead early in the third quarter before ETSU scored the final 12 points of the game, including a game-winning 28-yard field goal by J.J. Jerman as time expired. The Bulldogs were one of four Southern Conference teams to reach the postseason after posting a 5-3 league record.
    This will be the fourth meeting between the schools with the first three coming at Stambaugh Stadium. The most recent contest was a 37-29 win by the Penguins in the 2002 season finale. This will be the second time the teams have played in the FCS playoffs with the other meeting coming on Dec. 14, 1991. YSU won that contest 10-0 in the semifinals on a frigid day at Stambaugh Stadium to advance to its first title game. The Penguins ran the ball 81 times in the contest while Samford threw 43 passes. The lone touchdown came on a six-yard fumble return by Chris Vecchione in the first quarter. Both teams combined for 12 turnovers in the contest.
    The Guins are appearing in the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2006 and the 12th time in the program's history. YSU won national championships in 1991, 1993, 1994 and 1997 and owns an all-time mark of 25-7 in the FCS/Division I-AA Playoffs. At Stambaugh Stadium, YSU is 14-1 all-time having won 14 straight since losing its first game in 1990.

Quick Notes
• The Penguins have won 14 straight playoff games at Stambaugh Stadium, including a pair of wins in their last playoff appearance in 2006.
• In six home games this year, the most points the Guins allowed was 20 to South Dakota. The Coyotes scored two touchdowns late in the game to get to 20. No other opponent scored more than 14 points.
• YSU scored 65 points against Missouri State. In the previous five games the Penguins had 61 points combined with a high of 21.
• The Guins averaged 10.5 yards per play and 10.6 yards per rush at MSU. YSU had five touchdown runs of longer than 50 yards in the contest.
• The Penguins had three 100-yard rushers in a game for the first time in school history as Joe Alessi had 190, Martin Ruiz had 183 and Jody Webb added 166.
• PK Connor McFadden made the first field goal of his career, a 23-yard kick, in the third quarter.
• Ruiz moved past Jamaine Cook for second in school history in career rushing yards.
• For the fifth time in his career - and second straight game - Webb amassed more than 200 all-purpose yards in a game. Webb had 240 against MSU, including 166 yards rushing.
• YSU QBs combined to go 16-of-17 for 175 yards. The Penguins attempted two passes in the second half.
• CB Kenny Bishop's fumble return for a touchdown was the first fumble returned for a TD by YSU since Jeremey Edwards had a seven-yard return vs. Valparaiso in 2012.
• YSU scored 28 points off MSU turnovers.
• The Penguins had three sacks against the Bears. YSU has had three-or-more sacks in a game seven times this season.

Last Time Out: YSU 65, MSU 20
    YSU ended the regular season on a high note with an impressive 65-20 win over Missouri State at Plaster Stadium.
    The Penguins set school records for total offensive yards (747) and rushing yards (572) and most points scored in a road/conference game in the win.
    YSU jumped out to a 27-3 lead and never looked back in the contest. At hafltime the Guins led 34-10 before adding 17 points in the  third quarter.
    The Penguins had three tailbacks rush for more than 100 yards in the game led by reserve Joe Alessi, who had 190 yards on just seven carries and scored twice. Martin Ruiz rushed for 183 yards on 19 carries and scored three times while Jody Webb had 166 yards on 15 attempts and scored twice.
    YSU had five rushing touchdowns of 50 yards or more in the game.

Last Meeting: YSU 37, SU 29
    YSU closed out the 2002 season on a high note with a 37-29 victory over Samford at Stambaugh Stadium.
    The Penguins jumped out to a 13-0 lead after the first quarter before the Bulldogs closed to within 20-14 at halftime.
    YSU opened the third quarter with 10 points to take a 30-14 lead following a Jake Stewart 36-yard field goal and a 59-yard pass from Aaron Marshall to Jerald Burley. Samford crept within 30-22 in the third quarter on a 15-yard pass from Ramon Nelson to Aryvia Holmes.
    In the fourth, Josiah Doby's six-yard run pushed the Penguin lead back to 37-22 before Samford scored with 6:29 left to get within 37-29 on a 3-yard run by Josh Kellett.
    The Bulldogs had two final drives reach YSU territory, one ending at the 15-yard line and the final drive ended at the 32.
    P.J. Mays had 137 yards rushing on 23 carries and scored two touchdowns. Marshall completed 10-of-18 passes for 180 yards.

Playoff History
    The Penguins are appearing in the FCS playoffs for the 12th time in school history. One of the most successful FCS postseason programs, YSU is 25-7 all-time. The Guins have a .781 winning percentage, which is third all-time among FCS schools. YSU also ranks third in championships won (four) and championship-game appearances (six).
    The Guins have won 14 straight playoff games at Stambaugh Stadium, including a pair of wins in their last playoff appearance in 2006.

Ruiz Accomplishes Milestones
    Senior TB Martin Ruiz became YSU's second all-time leading rusher following a 183-yard performance against Missouri State.
    Ruiz now has 4,161 yards in his 46-game YSU career after moving past Jamaine Cook, who finished with 4,052 yards for the Penguins.
    Ruiz also eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season and has 1,008 entering his first career postseason game. It is the third straight season he has more than 1,000 yards rushing.
    In terms of all-purpose yards, Ruiz has 5,053 and is 75 shy of Tamron Smith for second and 167 shy of the school record held by Cook.

Webb Over 200 All-Purpose
    For second the second straight game and fifth time in his YSU career, Jody Webb amassed more than 200 all-purpose yards in a game when he had 240 at Missouri State.
    All five 200-yard games have come against MVFC foes with three coming in 2015. Of note, four of his five have come in November.
    He had 214 on Nov. 12 against SIU. In the final two regular season games last year he had 243 vs. Indiana State and 269 vs. NDSU.

Perfect Home Record
    YSU finished the regular season with a perfect 6-0 home record.
    The Penguins had non-conference wins against Duquesne and Robert Morris while picking up Valley wins against South Dakota, Southern Illinois, Indiana State and UNI.
    The four home wins against MVFC teams came by a combined total of 24 points with the largest winning margin of 10 points against South Dakota. In the five of the six home wins, YSU allowed 14-or-fewer points and no opponent had more than 20 vs. YSU this year.

YSU Defense Ranks Highly
    The Penguins' defensive unit ranks highly in the FCS in numerous categories entering the Samford contest.
    YSU ranks first in sacks per game (3.64), sixth in scoring defense (16.5 points per game),  seventh in total defense (294.4 yards per game), 15th in first downs defense (173), 15th in rushing defense (108.2 yards per game) and 16th in third-down percentage defense (32.0 percent),
    YSU's defense has allowed just 13 touchdowns in the last 32 quarters. The Guins did not allow an offensive touchdown against Illinois State and UNI.

Points Not Allowed
    In an era of higher-scoring games, the Penguins have allowed more than 25 points just once this season. That was to Big 12 foe West Virginia (38). In three of the other eight games, the Guins surrendered more than 21 on two occasions - 24 by North Dakota State and South Dakota State.
    At home this year, YSU did not allow a team to score more than 20 points.

Fourth Quarter Wins
    The Penguins have rallied for fourth-quarter wins five times this season. YSU beat Illinois State 20-6 after trailing 6-3 in the fourth, the Penguins beat UNI 14-10 after trailing 10-0 in the final period, against Indiana State the Guins overcame a 10-6 deficit to win 13-10 and most recently YSU had the game-winning score with 4:59 left in a 14-14 tie with SIU.
    While the wins have been ones to remember, YSU has had three different quarterbacks play in the fourth quarters of those games. (Ricky Davis vs. Illinois State, Nathan Mays vs. UNI and Hunter Wells vs. Indiana State and SIU).

Going to the Wells
    A familiar face has started for the Penguins the past four games in junior QB Hunter Wells.
    Wells, who made his season debut on Oct. 29 against Indiana State, had an outstanding first half against Missouri State.
    He completed 14-of-15 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown while YSU scored 34 points.
    He had a season-best 222 yards completing 18-of-27 passes at North Dakota State. He had two touchdown passes and was 13-of-25 for 124 yards vs. SIU.
    In his first game of the 2016 season he completed 13-of-26 passes for 101 yards and had two rushes for a net of 11 yards against the Sycamores. His 14-yard run in the contest was the longest of his career.
    Last year he started all 11 games for YSU completing 159-of-291 passes for 1,975 yards and 13 touchdowns. In his YSU career, he has thrown for 4,341 yards and 30 touchdowns while completing 338-of-586 passes.

Approaching Sack Record
    YSU has registered 40 sacks on the season. Impressively 13 different players have at least one sack while eight have at least two.
    DE's Avery Moss and Derek Rivers lead the way with 10 sacks each. DT Savon Smith is third on the team with five sacks while DT Donald Mesier has three. LB Armand Dellovade, LB Jamar Pinnock, SS Jameel Smith and CB Kenny Bishop each have two. The combination of Moss, Rivers and Smith give the starting D-line 25 sacks.

Fewest Rushing TDs Allowed
    The YSU defense has surrendered just four rushing touchdown this year.
    The Penguins did not yield a rushing score for the first six contests before allowing a rushing touchdown in the first quarter at South Dakota State. NDSU had two rushing scores while Southern Illinois had one.
    YSU has allowed four rushing TDs in 44 quarters played.  The Guins lead the FCS for fewest rushing touchdowns allowed this season.
    Last year, YSU allowed 20 rushing touchdowns, including 14 in the conference portion of the schedule.

Dellovade a Key Stopper
    Sophomore LB Armand Dellovade has continued to be a key figure for the Penguins.
    He leads the squad with a career-high 74 tackles and 51 solo stops. He is third with 8.5 TFLs, which includes a pair of sacks.
    In conference play he had 60 total tackles, highlighted by a career-high 11 stops against South Dakota State on Oct. 22. He has 39 solo tackles in MVFC play.
    Dellovade has had five-or-more tackles in each of the last 10 games.
    He came on strong as a true freshman finishing with 54 total tackles, including 32 solo stops. He started nine games as a true freshman.

Alexander The Great
    Senior FS LeRoy Alexander has interceptions in three of the past five games. Alexander had interceptions in YSU's last three road games at North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Missouri State.
    This year Alexander has 50 total tackles, including 36 solo stops, and has been the leader of a veteran secondary. He had his best game of the season against Indiana State on Oct. 29 with 11 tackles, three TFLs and a pass breakup.
    Last year he was a first-team All-MVFC selection in his first season with the program after transferring from Nebraska. He was second on the team a year ago with 67 total tackles, 38 of which were solo stops.
    He showed his versatility in the YSU defensive scheme registering a pair of sacks to go along with a team-high four interceptions. He was also credited with 3.5 TFLs.

Moss Having Best Campaign
    DE Avery Moss is the co-leader for the Penguins with 10 sacks on the season.
    In the regular season, Moss had 42 total tackles, 28 of which are solo stops. He ranks fifth on the team in total tackles. Moss is also tied for the team lead with 12.5 TFLs while ranking first in forced fumbles.
    In MVFC play he had eight sacks with three coming against Indiana State and two at Illinois State. He has sacks in seven of the 11 games this year.
    Last year, Moss had 25 total tackles and 14 solo stops for the season. He had three sacks for the entire 2015 campaign.

Webb Finding His Stride
    TB Jody Webb has erupted for the best two games of his senior season.
    Webb rushed for 166 yards and had two scores, his first of the year, at Missouri State. The week prior against Southern Illinois he had a career-best 167 yards rushing on 21 carries.
    Entering week 10 of the campaign, Webb had 320 yards on 75 carries. In the last two games he has 323 yards on just 36 attempts.
    Of his 26 career touchdown runs, 16 have been of more than 20 yards.

Bishop Making Plays
    Senior CB Kenny Bishop has had an outstanding season as a first-year starter.
    Bishop has 33 total tackles, 31 of which were solo stops. In MVFC play he had 24 tackles, including 23 solo stops (only one assist). In the regular season he had seven pass breakups, which was second best on the team.
    At Missouri State, he returned a sack-fumble 19 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. He has two sacks on the season and had the first interception of his career vs. Indiana State.

Smith Stepping Up
    Senior SS Jameel Smith ranks second on the team with 61 total tackles, including 45 solo stops. This year, Smith also has two interceptions, four TFLs, two sacks, three pass breakups and two QB hurries to show off a well-rounded resume.
    In MVFC play, he had 44 total tackles, including 32 solos with sacks coming in the final two games against Southern Illinois and Missouri State. He has been strong as of late with 36 tackles in the final five games.

Experienced Tailback Duo
    The Penguins boast one of the most experienced backfield tandems in the FCS in seniors Martin Ruiz and Jody Webb.
    Ruiz has played in 46 games and has rushed for 4,161 yards on 821 carries and scored 39 touchdowns. Webb has played in 42 contests, rushing for 2,590 yards on 384 attempts while scoring 26 touchdowns. Both runners rank in the top 11 in the FCS in active career yardage.
     Ruiz has rushed for at least 74 yards in a game on 33 occasions in 46 career games played.

Others Also Involved
    Sophomore TB Tevin McCaster has been a key part in the Penguins' backfield rotation. McCaster is YSU's second-leading scorer this season with six touchdowns. He has rushing touchdowns in six different games this year, and YSU is 5-1 in games when he scores.
    Redshirt freshman TB Joe Alessi scored on touchdown runs of 61 and 75 in the fourth quarter at Missouri State.

Rivers The Past 34 Games
    Senior DE Derek Rivers has had an impressive YSU career, but since the start of the 2014 season, Rivers has been one of the top defensive players in the FCS.
    Overall in his career, Rivers has 152 total tackles, 106 of which are solos. He has an impressive 49.5 TFLs, which rank him fourth in school history. This year he has 37 tackles, 31 of which solos, with 12.5 TFLs and 10 sacks.
    As a junior, he had 52 tackles, including an impressive 37 solo stops. He had 15.5 TFLs and nine sacks on the campaign as well. As a sophomore, Rivers was credited with 50 total tackles, including 17 TFLs and 14 sacks.
    In his last 34 games, he has 139 total tackles, 45 TFLs and 33 sacks.

Rivers Owns Sack Mark
    Senior DE Derek Rivers is the school's all-time sack leader with 35.
    On Oct. 17, 2015, following a two-sack performance against South Dakota State, Rivers eclipsed the school mark of 22 which had been held by Jermaine Hopkins since 1995. Hopkins played for the Penguins from 1992-95, and his career sack totals include postseason contests.
    Impressively, it took Rivers just 28 games to break the 20-year-old record.
    Last season, Rivers had nine sacks after registering 14 sacks in 2014. During his first campaign in 2013 he had three.
    He has 10 sacks  this year to go along with 15 QB hurries. His career high in sacks is 14, which he set in 2014.
    Rivers has had at least one sack in 18 of his last 27 games.

Call 9-11
    The Penguins' defensive-end combo of Avery Moss (No. 9) and Derek Rivers (No. 11) is one of the top ones in the nation. Moss and Rivers rank ninth in the FCS in sacks per game.
    WVU Head Coach Dana Holgorsen was quoted as saying following the contest "These two cats that we played against from Youngstown State were as good of pass rushers as I've seen" (h/t @mitchsherman).
    Through the regular season, Rivers has 10 sacks and 15 quarterback hurries while Moss has 10 sacks and eight QB hurries. It marks the third time in school history that YSU has two players with 10-or-more sacks in the same season.

Schuler Shows Big Leg
    Redshirt freshman P Mark Schuler has had  a strong start to his career. Schuler leads all freshman FCS punters and ranks eighth overall averaging 43.1 yards per kick. He has 12 punts of 50 yards or longer and has placed 19 inside the 20-yard line.
    The school record for average in a season belongs to Nick Liste who averaged 44.2 yards in 2013. The freshman mark is also held by Liste, an average of 41.4 yards in 2010.
    Against SIU, Schuler had a long of 61 yards and averaged an impressive 49.6 yards.
    Against Indiana State he boomed a career-long 62-yard punt to average 46.4 yards on five attempts. Other MVFC games of note for Schuler were against UNI when he had four punts and averaged 46.5 yards a boot; at Illinois State he averaged 45.7 yards per punt on six kicks, with a long of 55; and he had a 54-yard punt vs. South Dakota in his lone attempt.
    Schuler punted eight times for an average of 44.5 yards a kick at West Virginia. Schuler had kicks of 59, 51, 50 and 47 yards among his kicks.

Kennedy Keeps Excelling
    Sophomore PK Zak Kennedy is 11-of-17 on field-goal attempts and 23-of-23 on PAT tries.  He has excelled at kickoffs with 21 touchbacks in 35 attempts. Last year he had four touchbacks in 29 kickoffs. As a squad last year, YSU kickoff specialists had just nine touchbacks. He did not play in the final two games of the season.
    He set the school record with 19 field goals in 2015. Kennedy was a first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference honoree in his first year. He was the first freshman PK since UNI's Scott Obermeier in 1992 to be tabbed first team.
    In his career, he has made field goals in 18 games and attempted kicks in 19 of 20 contests.

Townsend Earns Honor
    Junior WR/PR Darien Townsend was named the FCS Special Teams Player of the Week following the contest against Indiana State.
    Townsend's 79-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter gave the Penguins a 13-10 lead and helped propel them to the comeback win. He ranks third in the FCS in punt return average at a 14.3 per return clip.

Numbers of Note
• Turnover Margin: Since 1996, the Penguins are 128-33 when they win or tie in the turnover margin. When committing more turnovers, YSU is just 23-61.
Since 1990 YSU is:
• 157-19-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points in a game.
• 128-16 when rushing for 200-plus yards.
• 150-25 when scoring 28-or-more points.
• 82-9-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in a game.
• 181-15 when leading entering the fourth.
• 83-3-2 when holding opponents to 10 points-or-less in a game.
More recently:
• YSU has scored points in 102 straight games.

Up Next: Jacksonville State
    The winner of Saturday's YSU-Samford contest will play at Jacksonville State on Dec. 3.