Penguins Head to Missouri State Looking to Bolster Playoff Resume

Avery Moss
Avery Moss

    The 14th-ranked Youngstown State football team plays their final game of the regular season this Saturday when the Penguins take on Missouri State in Springfield, Mo. Kickoff for the contest at Plaster Field is set for 3 p.m. Eastern time/2 p.m. Central time. The game is available on WKBN 570 AM, iHeartRadio, WBCB TV and ESPN3/WatchESPN App.
    YSU (7-3 overall and 5-2 in the MVFC) closed out a perfect home season with a 21-14 win over Southern Illinois last Saturday. The Penguins, who went 6-0 at home this year, jumped out to a 14-0 lead only to see the Salukis tie the contest in the fourth quarter. But a resilient YSU team found another way to win when QB Hunter Wells threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Darien Townsend with 4:59 remaining. From there the defense had to stop two late drives by SIU to seal the win.
    Tevin McCaster gave the Penguins a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter when he scored on a one-yard run. On their next offensive possession, YSU extended the lead to 14-0 with 11:56 left in the second quarter on a 10-yard pass from Wells to Alvin Bailey.  SIU tied the game with touchdowns in the third and fourth quarter before Wells found Townsend with 4:59 left. SIU had a first-and-goal at the YSU 10-yard line, but did not score. A final play hailmary pass completion ended the game at the Penguins' five.
    Missouri State (4-6, 2-5) has had an improved second year under Head Coach Dave Steckel. The Bears are coming off a 37-0 loss at Illinois State in their most recent outing. ISU amassed 514 yards of total offense in the contest while limiting MSU to 193. The Redbirds broke the game open with a 17-point second quarter to lead 20-0 at halftime. MSU owns conference wins against Southern Illinois and Indiana State after going winless in league play in 2015.
    The Penguins have won the past two meetings in the series, including a 47-7 win at Stambaugh Stadium last year. In their most recent trip to Missouri State in 2014, the Guins held on for 14-7 victory. Prior to the back-to-back wins, the Bears had won five of the previous eight meetings, including four straight before the two Penguins victories.
    YSU leads the all-time series by a 13-5 mark after winning the first eight contests between the programs. The Guins have won six of the nine contests played in Springfield since the series started in 1996.


Quick Notes
• The Penguins went unbeaten at Stambaugh Stadium in the regular season for just the fifth time since the facility opened in 1982. YSU also had perfect regular-season home records in 1990, 1993, 1994 and 2005.
• YSU's last four wins have all been decided by scores in the fourth quarter.
• In the six home games the most points the Guins allowed were 20 points to South Dakota. The Coyotes scored two touchdowns late in the game to get to 20. No other opponent scored more than 14 points.
• For the fourth time in his career TB Jody Webb amassed more than 200 all-purpose yards in a game. Webb had 214 against SIU, including a career-high 167 yards rushing.
• YSU did not commit a turnover against Southern Illinois. It was the first time this year the Penguins did not have a turnover in a game.
• YSU dominated time of possession against SIU despite running two fewer plays. The Penguins held the ball for 35:10 of the contest and had 75 plays compared to SIU's 77 and 24:50.
• Webb had a career-high four receptions as well for 35 yards.
• Junior QB Hunter Wells threw his first two touchdown passes of the season.
• On five occasions, YSU has not allowed more than 10 point in a game this year. The last time that occurred was in 2012.
• P Mark Schuler had a solid game averaging 49.6 yards a punt on five kicks. He had a long of 61 yards as well as boots of 52 46, 45, 44, yards.
• DB Billy Nicoe Hurst had a strong game with five tackles, all of which were solos. He entered the game with four for the season.

Last Time Out: YSU 21, SIU 14
    The Penguins took an early lead then had to score the winning touchdown and play solid defense to beat Southern Illinois 21-14. YSU jumped out to a 14-0 lead only to see the Salukis tie the contest in the fourth quarter. But a resilient YSU team found another way to win at home when QB Hunter Wells threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Darien Townsend with 4:59 remaining. From there the defense had to stop to late drives by SIU to seal the win.
    Tevin McCaster gave the Penguins a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter when he scored on a one-yard run. On their next offensive possession, YSU extended the lead to 14-0 with 11:56 left in the second quarter on a 10-yard pass from Wells to Alvin Bailey.  SIU tied the game with touchdowns in the third and fourth quarter before Wells found Townsend with 4:59 left. SIU had a first-and-goal at the YSU 10-yard line, but did not score and a final play hailmary pass completion ended the game at the Penguins' five.

Last Meeting: YSU 47, MSU 7
    YSU had an impressive performance in a 47-7 win over Missouri State last year at Stambaugh Stadium.
    The Penguins amassed 644 yards of total offense and allowed just 107 to the Bears. The Guins ran 47 more offensive plays than MSU and had no penalties in a game for the first time since October 1995.
    Jody Webb had 107 yards rushing while Martin Ruiz had 100, and Andrew Williams caught two TD passes and finished with 100 yards receiving. QB Hunter Wells threw three touchdown passes, all of which came in the first half as the Penguins opened the game by scoring the first 38 points.
    YSU scored 24 points in the first quarter as Zak Kennedy kicked a field goal, Williams and Andre Stubbs caught touchdown passes and Ruiz added a rushing score. The defense set the tone allowing just 11 yards and no first downs in the period.
    YSU led 38-7 at halftime in the rout. The Penguins scored the only points of the second half in the contest.

Ruiz Nearing Milestones
    Senior TB Martin Ruiz is approaching 4,000 yards rushing and 5,000 yards total offense in his YSU career.
    In 45 games played, he has rushed for 3,978 yards and needs just 22 on Saturday against Missouri State to get him to 4,000. He has 4,870 all-purpose yards (3,978 rushing, 657 receiving and 235 kickoff returns) in his career and is just 130 from the 5,000-yard mark.

Webb Over 200 All-Purpose
    For fourth time in his YSU career, Jody Webb amassed more than 200 all-purpose yards in a game when he had 214 vs. Southern Illinois.
    All four 200-yard games have come against MVFC foes with three coming last year. Also three of his four have come in November. He had 243 vs. Indiana State and 269 vs. North Dakota State last November while adding a 200-yard performance against Illinois State last October. YSU won for the first time when Webb had more than 200 yards against SIU.
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 Southern Illinois contest.
    YSU ranks first in sacks per game (3.70), fifth in scoring defense (16.2 points per game),  eighth in total defense (296.6 yards per game), 12th in third-down percentage defense (31.6 percent), 14th in first downs defense (156)  and  16th in rushing defense (112.5 yards per game).
    YSU's defense has allowed just 11 touchdowns in the last 28 quarters. The Guins did not allow an offensive touchdown against Illinois State and UNI.

Punt Game Strong
    The Penguins boast one of the top punt coverage and return units in the nation.
    In terms of returns, Darien Townsend ranks second in the country averaging 17.9 yards per return. Townsend has had 13 returns this season for a total of 233 yards.
    On punts, Mark Schuler ranks ninth in the FCS averaging 43.2 yards per punt on 46 punts. He has 12 of 50 yards or more this season. As a unit, YSU ranks 11th in punt return defense (3.29 yards per return) and 20th in net punting 38.05 yards a kick. Schuler has placed 18 of his 46 punts (39 percent) inside the opposition's 20-yard line.

Points Not Allowed
    In an era of higher-scoring games, the Penguins have allowed more than 25 points just once this season. At that was to No. 9 in the FBS, West Virginia (38). In three of the other eight games, the Guins surrendered more than 20 on three occasions - 24 by North Dakota State and South Dakota State and 20 by South Dakota.
    At home this year, YSU did not allow a team to score more than 21 points.

Fourth Quarter Wins
    The Penguins have rallied for fourth-quarter wins in each of their last four victories. 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 recent 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 three games in junior QB Hunter Wells.
    Wells, who made his season debut on Oct. 29 against Indiana State, 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 4,194 yards and 29 touchdowns while completing 324-of-571 passes.

Approaching Sack Record
    YSU has registered 37 sacks on the season. Impressively 13 different players have at least one sack while six have at least two.
    DE Avery Moss leads the way with 10 sacks while All-American Derek Rivers has nine each. DT Savon Smith is third on the team with five sacks while LB Armand Dellovade, LB Jamar Pinnock and DT Donald Mesier each have two. The combination of Moss, Rivers and Smith give the starting D-line 23 sacks.

Few 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 40 quarters played.  The Guins  and Colgate are tied in the FCS for fewest rushing touchdowns allowed.
    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 68 tackles after an eight solo tackle performance against Southern Illinois. In conference play he has 54 total tackles, highlighted by a career-high 11 stops against South Dakota State on Oct. 22. He has 37 solo tackles in MVFC play.
    Dellovade has had five-or-more tackles in each of the last nine games.
    He came on strong as a true freshman finishing with 54 total tackles, including 32 solo stops. The all-league recipient started nine games and was fourth on the team in tackles.

Alexander The Great
    Senior FS LeRoy Alexander has interceptions in two of the past four games. Alexander had an interception at North Dakota State and also had a pick at South Dakota State.
    This year Alexander has 43 total tackles, including 32 solo stops, and 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 leads the Penguins with 10 sacks on the season.
    In 10 games, Moss has 42 total tackles, 28 of which are solo stops. He ranks fourth on the team in total tackles. Moss not only has the team lead in sacks, he also leads the way in  TFLs (12.5) and forced fumbles (four).
    In MVFC play he has eight sacks in seven games with three coming against Indiana State and two at Illinois State. He has sacks in seven of the 10 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.

Ruiz Now Third in Rushing
    Senior TB Martin Ruiz moved into third place in career rushing yards at YSU following an 83-yard performance against SIU.
    Ruiz now has 3,978 yards on the ground and moved eight yards ahead of Adrian Brown. He is 74 yards shy of Jamaine Cook (4,052) for second in YSU history.
    Following a 151-yard effort against Indiana State on Oct. 29, Ruiz has 17 100-yard rushing games and is just the third player in school history to do so. He joins Tamron Smith (22) and Cook (20) as players who have eclipsed the century mark in at least 17 games during a career.

Rivers The Past 33 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 148 total tackles, 104 of which are solos. He has an impressive 48 TFLs, which rank him fourth in school history. This year he has 32 tackles, 29 of which solos, with 11 TFLs and nine 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 33 games, he has 135 total tackles, 43.5 TFLs and 32 sacks.

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 45 games and has rushed for 3,978 yards on 802 carries and scored 36 touchdowns. Webb has played in 41 contests, rushing for 2,424 yards on 369 attempts while scoring 24 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 32 occasions in 45 career games played.

McCaster Also Involved
    Sophomore TB Tevin McCaster has been a key part in the Penguins' 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.
    He had a touchdown in the first quarter last Saturday in the win over Southern Illinois. He finished with 25 yards on seven rushes.
    In the win over UNI he had 29 hard-earned yards on 12 carries and scored YSU's first touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter. At South Dakota State he had YSU's lone touchdown of the contest.
    At Illinois State he finished with 81 yards on 10 carries. He had six yards on three attempts in the first half before rushing for 75 on seven carries in the second half. His performance was bolstered by a 56-yard run in the fourth quarter.
    Against Duquesne, he carried the ball seven times for 107 yards and a touchdown. Impressively all seven carries came in the fourth quarter. Against Robert Morris he had a career-high 15 carries for 87 yards and a TD.

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 nine sacks  this year to go along with 11 QB hurries. His career high in sacks is 14, which he set in 2014.
    Rivers has had at least one sack in 17 of his last 26 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 ranks sixth while Rivers ranks 11th 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 10 games, Rivers has nine sacks and 14 quarterback hurries while Moss has 10 sacks and eight QB hurries. Moss has 42 total tackles, 28 of which are solos, while Rivers has 33 tackles on the year, 29 of which are solos.

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 ninth overall averaging 43.2 yards per kick. He has 12 punts of 50 yards or longer and has placed 18 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.
    Last time out Schuler had a long of 61 yards and averaged an impressive 49.6 yards against Southern Illinois.
    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 did not play against Southern Illinois. 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 in 11 games.
    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 second in the FCS in punt return average at a 17.9 per return clip.

Ruiz High On Lists
    Senior TB Martin Ruiz ranks in the top six in school history in five statistical categories.
    Ruiz is third in school history with 4,870 all-purpose yards; third in school history with 17 100-yard rushing games; third in rushing yards; fifth in carries and sixth in rushing touchdowns.

Numbers of Note
• Turnover Margin: Since 1996, the Penguins are 127-33 when they win or tie in the turnover margin. When committing more turnovers, YSU is just 23-61.
Since 1990 YSU is:
• 156-19-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points in a game.
• 127-16 when rushing for 200-plus yards.
• 149-25 when scoring 28-or-more points.
• 81-9-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in a game.
• 180-15 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 101 straight games.