The Youngstown State football team plays one of their biggest games of the season on Saturday when the Penguins play host to Western Kentucky. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Stambaugh Stadium.
No. 5/5 YSU (6-1 overall and 4-1 in the Gateway) will have its work cut out for it against a WKU team that possess one of the best defensive teams in the nation. The 10th/11th-ranked Hilltoppers (5-2 and 2-1) rank third in the nation in scoring and total defense. Both teams will be looking to stay in the conference race with Northern Iowa with a victory. UNI plays at Illinois State on Saturday.
The Penguins stayed perfect at home this season and kept the Ice Castle offensive onslaught going in a 44-30 victory over Illinois State last Saturday. YSU's offense had its most balanced game all season rushing for 194 yards and throwing for 177 yards. Jerald Burley and P.J. Mays each scored two touchdowns en route to the victory. Mays now has 935 yards rushing on the season and is just 65 shy of eclipsing 1,000 yards for the season. He has 14 rushing touchdowns on the year.
Western Kentucky shutout McNeese State 21-0 in its Homecoming game last Saturday. McNeese entered the game at WKU averaging more than 30 points per game. This season the Hilltoppers have allowed just eight touchdowns and in four of six games have held the opposition under double figures.
YSU's offense will be looking to keep its home momentum going. The Penguins have scored more than 38 points in each home game and have scored more than 41 points the last four home contests, a streak that sets a school mark for consecutive 40-plus point games at home.
YSU has won 13 of its last 14 home games since the 1998 season. This is the first meeting between YSU and WKU since Oct. 6, 1990, a 17-14 win by the Penguins at Bowling Green, Ky.
Last Game Recap: Penguins 44, Redbirds 30
The Youngstown State football team earned its third straight win beating Illinois State 44-30 in front of a crowd of 19,171 at Stambaugh Stadium on Saturday. YSU took a 5-0 lead before the Redbirds kicked three field goals to grab a 9-5 advantage. The Penguins scored 18 straight points to grab a 23-9 lead on a field goal by Jake Stewart, a one-yard touchdown run by Jeff Ryan and a Ryan to Jerald Burley 33-yard touchdown pass. Just before halftime, ISU's Dusty Burk scored on a two-yard run to cut the deficit to 23-16. YSU scored on the first drive of the third quarter on a three-yard run by P.J. Mays, but Illinois State pulled within 29-23 to end the third. In the fourth, Jerald Burley returned a punt 77 yards for a touchdown to put YSU ahead 37-23. But ISU cut the lead to seven again on a Burk to Mark Schaeve touchdown pass. YSU reserve quarterback Colby Street led the Penguins on their final scoring drive that ended on a 13-yard scoring run by P.J. Mays.
Game Notes: YSU has scored 40-plus points in its last four home games to set a school record. Jerald Burley became the first player since Dave Roberts to return a punt for a touchdown. Burley's 77-yard punt return for a touchdown was the first since Roberts returned a kick for a touchdown against Northern Iowa on Dec. 12, 1992 (112 games). Antulio Aroche recorded his first interception of his YSU career. Tony Bartholomew handled the kickoff duties for the first time this season. YSU recorded a safety in the second quarter for the first time since against New Haven in 1998. YSU allowed just minus-six yards rushing, the fewest since holding Buffalo to minus-10 on Nov. 5, 1994. The Penguins are 46-14-1 in Homecoming games (17-3 at Stambaugh) and have won nine straight.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Scouting Report
Western Kentucky brings an offense that will play ball control and defense that is one of the best in the nation. WKU ranks seventh in the nation in rushing offense and has an impressive 34:39 time of possession each contest. On defense, the Hilltoppers rank third in scoring and total defense, sixth in passing defense and 11th in rushing. WKU allows just 222 total yards and 9.1 points.
On the ground, Keith Brooks is the leading rusher averaging 79 yards per game. WKU has 17 rushing touchdowns on the season scored by 11 different players. They have only one touchdown pass on the year and starting quarterback Donte Pimpleton has thrown just 15 passes in seven games. He replaced Jason Johnson who was injured against Wisconsin.
The Western Kentucky-Youngstown State Series
This is the 11th meeting between the Penguins and Hilltoppers, but the first since 1990 and the first with both schools as members of the Gateway Football Conference.
Western Kentucky holds a 6-4 lead in the overall series that began in 1942. That last contest at Stambaugh Stadium was a 41-38 victory by the Hilltoppers. YSU tied the game at 38 early in the fourth quarter on a Ray Isaac to Ron Strollo touchdown pass, then WKU's Pat Levis kicked a 28-yard field goal as time expired to give the Hilltoppers the win.
In the 1990 contest in Bowling Green, Ky., the Penguins rallied for the win as Shawn Patton scored on a one-yard run with just over three minutes remaining to give YSU a 17-14 win.
All 10 games in the series have been played in October and the series is tied 3-3 at games played in Youngstown (1-1 at Stambaugh Stadium with the 1983 and 1990 games played there). Three of the games have been decided by three points or less while six have been decided by 14 points or more.
Preview: Saturday's Gateway Action
Northern Iowa travels to Illinois State as the Panthers continue to lead the Gateway Football Conference with a 4-0 mark. Southern Illinois and Indiana State, both 1-2 in the league, will be playing to snap a fifth-place tie at Terre Haute, Ind. SMS travels to Western Illinois as both teams look to rebound from conference setbacks last Saturday.
Burley National Special Teams Player of the Week
Junior wide receiver Jerald Burley earned national and conference honors last week as the Special Teams Player of the Week. Burley was tabbed the Gateway Football Conference's Special Teams star on Sunday and earned the national honor from The Sports Network on Monday. Tony Moss, Division I-AA football guru for The Sports Network, was in attendance at Saturday's ISU-Youngstown game.
Burley returned a punt 77 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of YSU's 44-30 victory over Illinois State. His punt return turned a 29-23 game into a 37-23 contest. It was the first punt returned for a touchdown by a Penguin since Dave Roberts returned a punt 71 yards against Northern Iowa on Dec. 12, 1992. Burley also caught a 33-yard touchdown pass and had two special teams tackles. Burley returned three punts for 103 yards, an average of 34.3 per return.
Individual Penguins in National Rankings
Junior tailback P.J. Mays ranks fifth in the nation in scoring (12.86 points per game) and eighth in rushing (133.6 yards per contest). Mays is also 24th in all-purpose yards. Senior cornerback LeVar Greene ranks 10th in the nation averaging 0.71 interceptions per game. Senior strong safety Bruce Hightower is 32nd in the nation averaging 0.43 INTs per game. Jake Stewart is 46th with 0.71 field goals per game and 74th in scoring at six points per game.
YSU in the National Categories
The Youngstown State football team ranks in the top five in Division I-AA in two categories entering the contest against Western Kentucky. YSU is fourth in the nation in rushing offense (285.86 yards per game), fifth in the nation in punt returns (18 yards), 12th in scoring offense (36.29 points), 13th in turnover margin (+1.14), 14th in scoring defense (16.43 points), 15th in kickoff returns (23.15), 16th in rushing defense (103 yards), 23rd in total defense (296), 25th in pass efficiency defense (104.06), 31st in total offense (396), 54th in net punting (32.89), 57th in pass defense (192) and 108th in passing offense (110).
Penguins in the Gateway Conference Rankings
YSU is first in the Gateway in scoring offense, rushing offense, total offense, punt returns, sacks allowed and turnover margin. The Penguins are second in scoring defense, total defense and passing efficiency defense, first downs, sacks and pass efficiency. Other rankings: Seventh in passing offense, fourth in kickoff returns, fifth in passing defense, fifth in punting and third in time of possession. Individuals: P.J. Mays -- first in rushing, all-purpose yards, scoring, sixth in total offense. Jake Stewart -- fourth in scoring, first in FG percentage. LeVar Greene -- first in interceptions. Jeff Ryan -- fifth in total offense, seventh in passing. Jerald Burley -- first in punt returns. Andre Coleman -- first in kickoff returns.
Turnovers Critical in Drive for Success
Twice this season the Penguins have forced six turnovers in a game and in four of seven contests YSU has won the turnover margin. YSU forced six SMS and Clarion turnovers earlier this season. Through seven games, YSU has forced 25 turnovers.
Of the 25 forced turnovers, YSU has capitalized on 15 of them scoring 93 points. The Penguins have turned the ball over 17 times and allowed just five touchdowns off of its miscues. YSU turned the ball over 13 times in the first four games -- the most since 1988, but since has had just four turnovers.
In 15 of the last 16 years (all but 1989), including 12 straight years, Youngstown State has had a plus in the turnover margin department. Entering the contest against WKU, which has a plus-two turnover margin, YSU has a plus-8 turnover advantage.
YSU Picks Up 100th Stambaugh Stadium Win
In their 20th campaign at Stambaugh Stadium the Youngstown State football team picked up their 100th victory in the facility on Oct. 13 beating Southwest Missouri State 41-20.
In its 20th season at Stambaugh, which opened in 1982, the Penguins are 101-30-2 (a .763 winning percentage). YSU has won 13 of its last 14 home games.
Since the 1989 season, YSU is an impressive 77-15-1, including undefeated seasons in 1993 and 1994. The Penguins are 32-6 in the past five-plus years at the Ice Castle. At home in the playoffs, YSU is 12-1 having won 11 straight home games.
Against Gateway Conference teams since 1997, the Penguins are 11-4 at home and have won two straight and have won six of the last seven.
YSU and First-Year Head Coaches
First-year Head Coach Jon Heacock has set a school record for wins by a first-year coach picking up his sixth of the year against Illinois State last Saturday. He is also the only coach of five to win his first three games and is just one of two -- Bill Narduzzi in 1975 -- to win his debut.
Of those five coaches, four began their collegiate head coaching career at YSU. YSU's first head coach Dike Beede is the only coach who had prior collegiate head coaching experience before coming to YSU. The other three head coaches -- Jim Tressel, Bill Narduzzi and Rey Dempsey -- had never been a college head coach before taking over at Youngstown. Beede guided the team from 1938-72, Dempsey in 1973-74, Narduzzi from 1975-85 and Tressel from 1986-2000. The best first-year coaching record was by Narduzzi in 1975 when he posted a 5-4 mark. In their first years, Beede was 4-5, Dempsey was 4-6 and Tressel was 2-9.
Greene Named to Buck Buchanan Watch List
Senior defensive back LeVar Greene had his name added as one of 16 players on the Buck Buchanan Battle list. The Buck Buchanan Award honors the nation's top Division I-AA Defensive player. Last year, YSU's Tim Johnson finished third in the voting. Tony Moss of The Sports Network tabbed Greene the nation's best defensive player through the first half of the season.
Here is a list of the 16 candidates after revisions were made to the list on Oct. 3: D.J. Bleisath, DE, Tennessee Tech; Will Bouton, LB, Furman; Abdul Byron, S, Lehigh; Keith Davis, S, Sam Houston State; LeVar Greene, CB, Youngstown State; Isaiah Greer, DB, Rhode Island; T.J. Hill, S, Northeastern; Vince Huntsberger, S, Montana; Josh Jeffries, DE, Appalachian State; Derrick Lloyd, LB, James Madison; Robert Mathis, DE, Alabama A&M; Freddy Pesqueira, DT, Georgia Southern; Doug Shanahan, S, Hofstra; Bobby Sippio, CB, Western Kentucky; Travis Stephens, LB, The Citadel; Tracy White, LB, Howard.
Jeff Ryan Becomes All-Time Total Yardage Leader
Senior quarterback Jeff Ryan is in his fourth year as the signal caller for the Penguins. Ryan, the all-time leader in career touchdown passes and rushing yards by a quarterback, will leave the program with his name all over the offensive-category part of the record books. He has started 36 games in his career and owns a 27-11 record as a starter. He is 24-7 as a starter since the 1999 season. He has rallied Youngstown State from behind to victory 14 times, including four times last season and once this year. Ryan has produced 7,380 yards of total offense in his career.
Jake Stewart Perfect on Field Goals
Sophomore placekicker Jake Stewart is a perfect 5-of-5 on field-goal attempts this season, including a career-long 49 yarder against Northern Iowa on Sept. 29. Last Saturday, Stewart was perfect making kicks from 44 yards and 35 yards. He also made a 40-yard kick, but a running-into-the-kicker penalty gave YSU a first down. Stewart kicked a 42-yard field goal in the season opener against Lock Haven and hit on a 24-yard kick against Clarion.
Dating back to last season, Stewart has made six straight field goals. He is 27-of-29 on extra-point attempts this season.
Mays Nears 1,000 Yards Rushing For the Season
Junior tailback P.J. Mays is just 65 yards shy of becoming the first YSU back since Adrian Brown in 1999 to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. Mays has 935 yards entering Saturday's contest against a stingy Western Kentucky crew.
This year, Mays became the second player in school history to rush for more than 200 yards in a game twice in a season. Mays rushed for 226 yards in the season opener against Lock Haven and had 218 yards against SMS. The only other player to have more than 200 yards twice in a season was Paris Wicks in 1981. Wicks rushed for 227 yards against Morehead State on Nov. 24, 1981 and the next week had 215 yards against Northern Iowa on Nov. 31. Wicks finished his career with three 200-plus yard performances.
In his 19-game career, Mays has rushed for 1,716 yards on 325 carries and he has scored 24 touchdowns. He scored two touchdowns in the win over Illinois State. Against Indiana State, he had a career-best 34 carries and scored four rushing touchdowns against the Sycamores. Against Western Illinois he rushed for two scores and took a shovel pass 50 yards for a third touchdown. Against Clarion he rushed for 180 yards on nine carries. His 20-yards-per-carry average set a school record for yards per attempt in a 100-yard game. In the opener, he had the best game of his YSU career against Lock Haven rushing for 226 yards on 21 carries and scoring one touchdown. His 226-yard total was the sixth best in school history and the first time over 200 by a Penguin back since Jake Andreadis ran for 210 yards against Wingate on Oct. 21, 1995.
Top Rushing Performances in School History
Yards Player vs. Opponent, Date
304 Dick Adipotti vs. Southern Connecticut, 10/22/66 (24 carries)
264 Robby Robson vs. Delaware, 11/10/79 (30 carries)
253 Frank Horvath vs. Gustavus-Adolphus, 11/10/60 (20 carries)
246 Tamron Smith vs. Samford, 12/14/91 (46 carries)
227 Paris Wicks vs. Morehead State, 11/24/81 (24 carries)
226 P.J. Mays vs. Lock Haven, 8/31/01 (21 carries)
218 P.J. Mays vs. SW Missouri State, 10/13/2001 (24 carries)
Aroche Cleaning Up in the Secondary
Senior defensive back Antulio Aroche has been flying all over the place for the Penguins the past two weeks he recorded 21 tackles and now leads the team with 45 stops. Against Illinois State last Saturday, he had 10 tackles, three pass breakups and returned an interception 38 yards. The week before, Aroche was named the Gateway Football Conference's Defensive Player of the Week recording a career-high 11 tackles against SMS. He also recovered and forced a fumble against the Bears.
Running Team Will Be Change of Pace
The Youngstown State defense has seen plenty of passing the past two weeks and this Saturday will see a sudden change in the offensive scheme of the opponent when playing Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers have thrown just 38 passes this season in seven games -- an average of 5.4 per game.
The past two weeks the YSU secondary has seen 93 passes from SMS and Illinois State. Last week, Illinois State's Dusty Burk threw 41 of his team's 42 passes while the week before Austin Moherman threw 46 of the Bears' 52 passing attempts.
YSU Scoring Almost Every Way Imaginable
The Youngstown State football team has scored almost every imaginable way this season. The Penguins blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown against Lock Haven (returned 36 yards by Darius Peterson); returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Lock Haven (returned 89 yards by Andre Coleman); returned a fumble for a touchdown against Clarion (returned six yards by Bruce Hightower); returned an interception for a score against Western Illinois (returned 23 yards by LeVar Greene) and returned a punt for a touchdown against Illinois State (returned 77 yards by Jerald Burley). YSU has also scored via a safety (long snapper sent the ball through the end zone in game against Illinois State), field goal and rushing and passing touchdowns. The only ways left (and there may be more) are a defensive extra point or a blocked field goal for touchdown.
Offensive Productivity Impressive So Far
YSU is averaging an impressive 36.3 points through the first seven games. In six of the seven games, all wins, the Penguins have scored more than 35 points. YSU has scored more than 40 points in its past three home games for the first time marking the first time in school history the Penguins have scored 40-plus points in four consecutive home tilts.
Youngstown State has scored 254 points through seven games, the second-best total through seven contests in school history. The best point production through seven games is 282 points in 1978.
Coaches Game Day Assignments
YSU offensive coordinator/offensive line coach John Klacik has spent the past two games on the field after moving from the coaches booth in the press box down to the the sidelines to call plays prior to the SMS game. The week before YSU assistant coach George Small moved from the coaches booth down to the sideline joining defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis and defensive line coach Bob Stoops. Offensively, Klacik is joined by wide receivers coach Trent Boykin and quarterbacks coach Brian Wright as the on-field coaches. Up in the coaches booth on gameday are assistant head coach/running backs coach Sam Eddy and offensive graduate assistant Nick Siciliano, linebackers coach Todd Murgatroyd and defensive graduate assistant Don Houser.
Nine Players Remain From 1997 Title Team
Nine members of the 1997 championship team remain part of the 2001 Penguin football team. This season, all nine players have key roles on the squad. Those nine players are defensive back Andre Coleman, wide receiver Sean Guerriero, offensive guard Lavelle Hawkes, strong safety Bruce Hightower, linebacker Carlos Pearson, linebacker Bob Sivik, center Dave Tesniarz, linebacker Mike Thomas and holder/wide receiver Steve Valley. All players except for Pearson redshirted that first season. Pearson saw limited action on the 1997 squad as a true freshman but after the season left the squad and returned this past spring.
Five Players Named Team Captains This Season
The Penguins have tabbed seniors Jeff Ryan, Dave Tesniarz, Bob Sivik, LeVar Greene and Bruce Hightower as the team captains for the 2001 season. Last season, with 12 seniors, the Penguins had game captains, but prior to this season, Coach Jon Heacock announced that Ryan, Tesniarz, Sivik, Greene and Hightower were named the captains for the season. YSU has 21 seniors on the roster this year.
Up Next: YSU Travels to Southern Illinois
The Penguins conclude their Gateway Football Conference portion of the schedule by traveling to Carbondale, Ill., to play Southern Illinois next Saturday (Nov. 3). The game against the Salukis is the Gateway Football Conference's TV game of the week and will be televised in Youngstown on local Fox affiliate WYFX. The Penguins are 7-4-1 all-time against Southern Illinois and 3-1 since joining the Gateway in 1997. YSU will be looking to avenge last season's heartbreaking 21-20 defeat. The Penguins led 20-0 in the fourth quarter before the Salukis scored 21 unanswered points to spoil Senior day. The game also turned out to be the final home contest for Coach Jim Tressel.