Penguins Travel to NDSU In Another Battle For First Place

Penguins Travel to NDSU In Another Battle For First Place

    The 13th-ranked Youngstown State football team faces a stiff challenge on Saturday when they visit No. 4 North Dakota State. Kickoff for the contest at the FargoDome is set for 3:30 p.m. Eastern time/2:30 p.m. Central. The game is available on WKBN 570 AM, iHeartRadio and ESPN3/WatchESPN App. It will also be televised live on WBCB in Youngstown.
    YSU (6-2 overall and 4-1 in the MVFC) kept pace in the race for the Missouri Valley Football Conference title with a 13-10 come-from-behind win over Indiana State. The Sycamores jumped out to a 10-0 lead after the first quarter. In the second quarter, a pair of Zak Kennedy field goals closed the deficit to 10-6. YSU finally took the lead with 9:19 remaining when Darien Townsend returned a punt 79 yards for a score as the Penguins went ahead 13-10. The defense helped seal the win with three sacks on the Sycamores' final two drives.
    North Dakota State (7-1 and 4-1) is also atop the conference standings after a 24-20 win at UNI last Saturday. The Bison jumped out to a 21-6 lead early in the third quarter before the Panthers chipped away to make things interesting. UNI pulled within 21-13 late in the third and four points with 12:10 left in the game. But the Bison defense stepped up to preserve the victory. UNI had a 1st-and-10 at the NDSU 22-yard line with just over two minutes remaining, but an interception by Matt Plank ended the threat.
    Both NDSU and YSU are tied with South Dakota State for first in the confernece race with three games remaining for all three teams. SDSU, which has defeated both teams, plays host to Missouri State on Saturday.
    NDSU leads the all-time series 6-4 and has won the past four contests. Last year's game in Youngstown was a heartbreaker for the Penguins, who led by two touchdowns at the start of the fourth quarter. The Guins built a 14-3 halftime lead as Ricky Davis scored on a 13-yard run and Jody Webb raced to the end zone from 45 yards out.
    The Bison pulled within 14-10 on an Easton Stick one-yard run, but YSU closed out the third quarter with a 77-yard Webb touchdown jaunt and a 44-yard field goal by Zak Kennedy to go in front 24-10. NDSU scored the last 17 points to rally for the win. Stick had the winning score from four yards out with just 35 seconds remaining.
    YSU's last victory in Fargo was in November 2011.


Quick Notes
• YSU's last three wins have all been fourth-quarter comebacks with three different QBs leading the offense. Last time out, YSU trailed 10-6 after three before beating Indiana State 13-10.
• Junior QB Hunter Wells made his season debut against Indiana State. Wells, who started all 11 games last year and 18 in his career, had not played in the first seven games of the 2016 campaign.
• Senior TB Martin Ruiz had the 17th 100-plus yard rushing performance of his career with 151 yards against Indiana State. Ruiz is just the third player in school history to rush for 100 yards on at least 17 occasions.
• For the second time this season, YSU had seven sacks in a game. The Penguins also had seven sacks against Robert Morris, which was the most for YSU since an Oct. 15, 2005 game against Western Illinois.
• Three of those sacks against the Sycamores were courtesy of senior DE Avery Moss. Moss had two sacks on ISU's final drive and a sack-fumble in the third quarter.
• WR/PR Darien Townsend's 79-yard punt return for a touchdown was the first punt returned for a score by the Guins since Josh Lee went 96 yards for a score in a Sept. 10, 2011 win over Valparaiso.
• On five occasions, YSU has not allowed more than 10 point in a game this year. The last time that occurred was in 2012.
• YSU's last five offensive touchdowns and last seven TDs overall have all been scored in the fourth quarter.
• Also, 55 of YSU's last 67 points - since the third quarter of the South Dakota game - have come in the fourth quarter - 10 vs. USD; 17 of 20 at Illinois State; all 14 vs. UNI; 7 of 10 at South Dakota State and 7 of 13 vs. Indiana State.
• YSU is outscoring opponents 83-21 in the fourth quarter. In the first three quarters, the Guins have outscored opponents 108-103.

Last Time Out: YSU 13, ISU 10
    The Penguins overcame a 10-point deficit, backed by an impressive defensive effort and a key special teams touchdown, for a come-from-behind 13-10 win over Indiana State.
    Indiana State went on top 10-0 in the first quarter following a 29-yard field goal by Jerry Nunez and a nine-yard touchdown pass from Isaac Harker to Robert Nunez.
    YSU hunkered down defensively after those scores, and Zak Kennedy made a pair of second-quarter field goals (23 and 31 yards) to keep the contest close.
    With just over nine minutes left in the game, Darien Townsend returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown, which turned out to be the game-winning score.

Last Meeting: NDSU 27, YSU 24
    The Penguins led 24-10 after three quarters before second-ranked North Dakota State rallied to score 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to earn a come-from-behind 27-24 victory at Stambaugh Stadium.
    The Penguins played a tremendous first half to take a 14-3 lead at the intermission. QB Ricky Davis capped off YSU's first possession of the game with a 13-yard touchdown run as the Penguins went on top 7-0 early. NDSU cut the deficit to 7-3 before Jody Webb scored on a 45-yard run just 2:38 before halftime. The Bison pulled within 14-10 on an Easton Stick one-yard run.
    YSU closed out the third quarter with a 77-yard Webb touchdown jaunt and a 44-yard field goal by Zak Kennedy, his school-record 18th of the season, to go in front 24-10. NDSU scored the last 17 points to rally for the win. Stick had the winning score from four yards out with just 35 seconds remaining.

No Drive Time
    The YSU defense has allowed two drives of 70-or-more yards in the past six contests (first quarter at SDSU and first quarter by Indiana State). In the last 73 drives, the opposition has had just 10 drives that have marched 50-or-more yards. In the last four games, a span of 46 drives, YSU has allowed just six drives to go for 50-plus yards.

One Rushing TD Allowed
    The YSU defense has surrendered just one 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.
    YSU has allowed just one rushing TD in 32 quarters played so far this season.  The Penguins rank ahead of Central Arkansas and Colgate (three each) in that category. UCA has played in eight games like YSU while Colgate has played seven contests. Combined, the three teams own an overall record of 16-7.
    Last year, YSU allowed 20 rushing touchdowns, including 14 in the conference portion of the schedule.

3,848 is the Pick-4 Number
    Entering this Saturday's contest at North Dakota State, QB Hunter Wells and TB Martin Ruiz have each accumulated 3,848 yards in their YSU careers.
    Ruiz has that total rushing while Wells has that number as his career passing yardage. Ruiz is bidding to become the third running back in school history to amass 4,000 yards while Wells is bidding to become the 11th player in YSU history to eclipse the 4,000-yard mark.

Fourth Quarter Comebacks
    The Penguins have rallied for fourth-quarter wins in each of their last three 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 and against Indiana State the Guins overcame a 10-6 deficit to win 13-10.
    While the comebacks 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).

YSU Defense Ranks Highly
    The Penguins' defensive unit ranks highly in the FCS in numerous categories entering the North Dakota State contest.
    YSU ranks first in sacks per game (4.13), fourth in scoring defense (15.5 points per game), seventh in total defense (276.0 yards per game), ninth in third-down percentage defense (29.1 percent), 13th in first downs defense (122), 13th in rushing defense (102.8 yards per game).
    YSU's defense has allowed just six touchdowns in the last 20 quarters. The Guins did not allow an offensive touchdown against Illinois State and UNI.
    On third down, the defense has been extremely tough. In the six wins, opponents are 17-of-84 (20.2 percent). In the five MVFC games, only 17 conversions have been successful in 68 tries (25 percent).

Going to the Wells
    A familiar face was back under center for the Penguins against Indiana State. Junior QB Hunter Wells made his season debut last Saturday against Indiana State.
    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. In 2015 he completed 159-of-291 passes for 1,975 yards and 13 touchdowns. In his YSU career, he has thrown for 3,848 yards and 27 touchdowns while completing 293-of-519 passes.

Approaching Sack Record
    YSU has registered 33 sacks on the season following a seven-sack effort against Indiana State. Impressively 12 different players have at least one sack while six have at least two.
    DE Avery Moss leads the Penguins with nine sacks while preseason All-American Derek Rivers has eight. 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 22 sacks.

Smith Playing Big Role
    Senior FS Jameel Smith has played a key role in the defensive unit's improvement the past two years.
    Smith has 26 total tackles the last three weeks following a seven-tackle effort against Indiana State. Smith had 11 tackles the week before at South Dakota State. It was the second time this season that he had double figures in tackles, the other time being a 12-tackle effort at West Virginia. In the game prior to the SDSU contest he had eight stops against UNI.
    He had a key interception in the win against Indiana State. Smith ended an ISU drive with pick in the end zone on a 3rd-and-5 from the YSU 7-yard line in the second quarter.
    Five times in his career he has been credited with double figures in tackles - the other three being 10 at North Dakota State in 2013, 13 at Southern Illinois in 2015 and a career-best 14 at Indiana State last year.
    In his last 18 games he has 115 tackles, averaging just over six tackles a game. He is second on the team this year with 51 total tackles.

Dellovade a Key Stopper
    Sophomore LB Armand Dellovade has continued to be a key figure for the Penguins.
    He leads the squad with 53 tackles after an eight-tackle effort against Indiana State. The week before he had a career-high 11 stops against South Dakota State.
    Dellovade has had five-or-more tackles in each of the last seven games. In the five conference games he has 39 tackles, 25 of which are solo stops.
    He came on strong as a true freshman finishing with 54 total tackles, including 32 solo stops. The honorable-mention all-league recipient started nine games and was fourth on the team in tackles.

Moss Having Best Campaign
    DE Avery Moss had a career-high three sacks in the Penguins' 13-10 win over Indiana State. On the heels of that effort, Moss ranks fifth in the country averaging 1.06 sacks per game.
    In eight games this, Moss has 36 total tackles, 24 of which are solo stops. He is tied for third on the team in total tackles. Moss now leads the team in sacks (nine), TFLs (10.5) and forced fumbles (three).
    In MVFC play he has seven sacks in five games with three coming against Indiana State and two at Illinois State. He has sacks in six of the eight 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.

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.
    Townsend has been a key asset in the punt-return game the last three contests. His last six returns have gone for a total of 189 yards - an average of 31.5 yards a return.
    Against UNI his 45-yard return with 3:37 left set up YSU's game-winning touchdown drive.

Ruiz Ranks Fourth in Rushing
    Senior TB Martin Ruiz is fourth in school history in career rushing yards with 3,848.
    Following a 151-yard effort against Indiana State, 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  Jamaine Cook (20) as players who have eclipsed the century mark in at least 17 games during a career.

Rivers The Past 31 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 139 total tackles, 97 of which are solos. He has an impressive 46 TFLs, which rank him fourth in school history. This year he has 24 tackles, 22 of which solos, with nine TFLs and eight 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 31 games, he has 126 total tackles, 41.5 TFLs and 31 sacks. He is averaging 4.1 stops, 1.2 TFLs and one sack a game.

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 43 games and has rushed for 3,848 yards on 772 carries and scored 36 touchdowns. Webb has played in 39 contests, rushing for 2,214 yards on 338 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 31 occasions in 43 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 rusher this season with 380 yards.
    In the win over UNI he had 29 hard-earned yards on 12 carries. He 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 34.
    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 eight 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 16 of his last 24 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 as they rank fifth and sixth 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 eight games, Rivers has eight sacks and 11 quarterback hurries while Moss has nine sacks and seven QB hurries. Moss has 36 total tackles, 24 of which are solos, while Rivers has 24 tackles on the year, 22 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 14th overall averaging 42.4 yards per kick. He has nine punts of 50 yards or longer and has placed 14 inside the 20-yard line.
    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.
    Against Robert Morris he punted seven times and placed two at the 10-yard line and another at the 11. 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 having another solid year so far for the Penguins.
    This season, Kennedy is 10-of-15 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 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 17 games and attempted kicks in 18 of 19 contests.

Alexander The Great
    Senior FS LeRoy Alexander is having another great year after an outstanding 2015. Last year he was a first-team All-MVFC selection in his first season with the program after transferring from Nebraska.
    In 2016, Alexander has 36 total tackles, including 27 solo stops, and been the leader of a veteran secondary. He had his best game of the season against Indiana State with 11 tackles, three TFLs and a pass breakup.
    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.

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 4,713 all-purpose yards; third in school history with 17 100-yard rushing games; fourth in rushing yards; fifth in carries and sixth in rushing touchdowns.
    He is one of six players in school history to rush for more than 3,500 yards in a career.

Longest Drive Since 1985
    The 22-play drive against UNI was the longest for the Penguins since 1985.
    On Nov. 2, 1985, YSU marched 73 yards in 22 plays against Middle Tennessee State in Murfreesboro, Tenn. That drive, led by QB Trenton Lykes, was extended by a roughing-the-kicker penalty on a 4th-and-22 from the YSU 29. Also a pass interference foul on 3rd-and-10 kept the drive alive. Lykes connected with Robert Thompson on a seven-yard pass for the score.

Numbers of Note
• Turnover Margin: Since 1996, the Penguins are 126-33 when they win or tie in the turnover margin. When committing more turnovers, YSU is just 23-60.
Since 1990 YSU is:
• 155-19-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points in a game.
• 126-16 when rushing for 200-plus yards.
• 148-25 when scoring 28-or-more points.
• 80-9-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in a game.
• 179-15 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 99 straight games.

Up Next: Southern Illinois
    The Penguins play their final regular-season home game against Southern Illinois on Nov. 12 in a special noon kickoff.