First Place on the Line As Penguins Travel to South Dakota State

LeRoy Alexander
LeRoy Alexander

    The 12th-ranked Youngstown State football team will play at seventh-ranked South Dakota State on Saturday afternoon with sole possession of first place in the Missouri Valley Football Conference at stake. Kickoff for the contest between the Penguins and Jackrabbits, which are both 3-0 in the MVFC, will be at 3 p.m. Eastern/2 p.m. Central at  Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium. The game is available on WKBN 570 AM, iHeartRadio, WBCB TV in Youngstown and ESPN3/WatchESPN App.
    YSU (5-1 overall and 3-0 in the MVFC) has won four consecutive games following a memorable 14-10 win over UNI last Saturday. With injuries forcing the Penguins' first and second sting quarterbacks out of the game, redshirt freshman Nathan Mays helped engineer two scoring drives for the come-from-behind victory. The defense did its part the entire night to keep the Guins in the ball game. Down 10-0 midway through third quarter, YSU went on a 22-play drive that was capped with a one-yard run by Tevin McCaster with 11:47 left in the game. With 28 seconds left, TB Martin Ruiz scored from a yard out to give YSU its first lead of the game at 14-10. UNI had one final chance, but a hail mary throw by Eli Dunne from the YSU 49-yard line was knocked down with no time remaining.
    SDSU (4-2 and 3-0) is coming off a last-minute win of its own, knocking off previously-unbeaten and top-ranked North Dakota State 19-17 at the Fargodome. The Jackrabbits had their own stirring second-half and fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Bison. Trailing 17-3, SDSU closed within 17-10 with 5:26 left in the third quarter on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Taryn Christion to Dallas Goedert. The comeback continued early in the fourth quarter following a 42-yard field goal from Chase Vinateri with 11:04 left. Down four, Christion led SDSU to the NDSU two-yard line in the waning seconds. On fourth-and-goal he found Jake Wieneke for the game-winning score with one second left. Christian was tabbed the National Offensive Player of the Week for leading the SDSU rally.
   The Jackrabbits beat the Penguins 38-8 last year at Stambaugh Stadium to take a 10-7 all-time lead in the series. YSU picked up its first win in Brookings since 1974 during its last visit to SDSU. The Penguins earned a hard-fought 30-27 victory on Oct. 25, 2014. Since 2008 the Jackrabbits have won seven of the last eight meetings.


Quick Notes
• YSU last started a conference slate 4-0 in 2013. That season the Penguins began the league portion of their season 5-0.
• YSU is the only Division I team that has not allowed a rushing touchdown this season.
• YSU had two rushing scores against UNI. The Panthers had allowed two rushing scores all year before the game.
• For the first time, YSU has won back-to-back home games against UNI.  The Penguins won the previous meeting at Stambaugh Stadium in 2012 and claimed the win on Saturday.
• YSU has won three straight games in the state of South Dakota. The Penguins defeated South Dakota in Vermillion in 2013 and 2015 and won at SDSU on their last trip in 2014.
• Against UNI, the Penguins had 28 more offensive plays, attempted 30 more rushes, had nine more first downs and recorded almost 11 more minutes in time of possession.
• YSU had five sacks against UNI and has been credited with 24 in six games. The Guins' defense has also produced 27 QB hurries. Last year in 11 games, YSU was credited with 27 sacks for the season.
• DE Derek Rivers ranks second in the FCS with 1.33 sacks per game. UNI's Karter Schult leads the country with 1.42 sacks a contest.
• Rivers has had at least one sack in 16 of his last 22 games. He had one sack against UNI and now has 34 for his career.
• PK Zak Kennedy has made a field goal in 15 of his 17 career contests. He is now 7-of-9 in field-goal attempts this season and 18-of-21 (85.7 percent) in his career against MVFC foes. In his career he is 26-of-32 (81.3 percent).
• TB Martin Ruiz had the 16th 100-yard rushing performance of his career with 100 vs. UNI. The 100 yards also moved him into fourth place in school history with 3,647 career rushing yards.

Last Time Out: YSU 14, UNI 10
    A splendid defensive effort and just enough offense in the nick of time helped lead Youngstown State to a memorable 14-10 win over UNI last Saturday night at Stambaugh Stadium.
    With injuries forcing the Penguins' first and second sting quarterbacks out of the game, redshirt freshman Nathan Mays helped engineer two scoring drives for the come-from-behind victory.
    Trailing 10-0 midway through third quarter, YSU went on a 22-play drive that was capped with a one-yard run by Tevin McCaster with 11:47 left in the game. With 28 seconds left, TB Martin Ruiz scored from a yard out to give YSU its first lead of the game at 14-10. Ruiz finished with 100 yards for the game.
    UNI had one final chance, but a hail mary throw by Eli Dunne from the YSU 49-yard line was knocked down with no time remaining.

Last Meeting: SDSU 38, YSU 8
    YSU never got on track against South Dakota State losing 38-8 to the Jackrabbits last year at Stambaugh Stadium.
    South Dakota State grabbed the lead in the first minute of the game and never looked back.
    YSU trailed 7-2 after the first quarter and 17-5 at halftime. In the third quarter, the Penguins trimmed the deficit to 17-8 on a 40-yard field goal by Zak Kennedy. But the Jackrabbits scored the last three touchdowns for the final margin.
    In the contest, DE Derek Rivers had a pair of sacks in the contest to eclipse the school record for most sacks in a career. As a unit, YSU's defense registered four sacks in the game.

Penguins' Sack Attack
    The Penguins have registered 22 sacks in the past four contests. YSU had five sacks against UNI, six at Illinois State, four against South Dakota and seven, the most in a game since 2005, vs. Robert Morris.
    YSU ranks third in the FCS in sacks per game averaging 4.00 a game. Saint Francis (Pa.) leads the country averaging 4.29 while Prairie View is second with 4.17.
    Those four teams are the only ones to register at least 24 sacks this season. In three league games, YSU has 15 sacks. The Penguins also have 27 QB hurries.

No Rushing TDs Allowed
    The Penguins have not allowed a rushing touchdown through six games. YSU is the only Division I program (FBS and FCS combined) which has not allowed a rushing score as of yet.
    Among other Divisions, Grand Valley State has not allowed a rushing score in seven games (Division II) while at Division III, Wheaton (Ill.) has not allowed a score in seven games and Amherst (Mass.) hasn't surrendered one in four games.
    Last year, YSU allowed 20 rushing touchdowns, including 14 in the conference portion of the schedule.

Drive to Remember
    Trailing 14-0 midway through the third quarter, the Penguins put together one of the most impressive drives in school history. YSU had a 22-play, 86-yard march that melted 11:40 off the game clock.
    During the 22 plays, YSU ran the ball 20 times and threw just two passes. The lone completion of the drive was an 11-yard pass from Nathan Mays to Jody Webb that converted a 3rd-and-7 situation at the UNI 38-yard line.
    YSU ran the final 15 plays of the third quarter after taking over at its 14-yard line with 8:27 remaining. The final eight plays of the drive were all rushes as Tevin McCaster capped it off with a one-yard touchdown run with 11:47 left in the fourth quarter.

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-yard line. Also a pass interference foul on 3rd-and-10 kept the drive alive. Lykes connected with Robert Thompson on a seven-yard pass to end the drive.
    The only other 20-play drive since 1985 occurred less than a year later in 1986. YSU had a 21-play drive on Oct. 11, 1986, against Tennessee Tech at Stambaugh Stadium that ended with a 26-yard field goal.

Three QBs Not By Design
    Because of injuries, the Penguins were forced to use three quarterbacks in the come-from-behind win over UNI.
    Starting QB Ricky Davis played the first quarter and two drives in the second quarter before leaving the game with a lower-body injury. Second-string QB Trent Hosick played four snaps of the next drive before exiting. On a 28-yard run Hosick broke his collarbone when he was pushed to the ground out of bounds.
    That forced third-string QB and scout-teamer Nathan Mays into the mix. Mays played the final possession of the first half and all of the second-half in the come-from-behind win.
Fourth-Quarter Comebacks
    YSU has won its last two MVFC games in thrilling fashion scoring 31 of their last 34 points in the fourth quarter. The Penguins scored all 14 points in their 14-10 win over UNI in the fourth period. In a 20-6 comeback win at Illinois State the week before, the Guins trailed 6-3 before tallying 17 fourth-quarter points in the win.

YSU Defense Ranks Highly
    The Penguins' defensive unit ranks highly in the FCS in numerous categories entering the South Dakota State contest.
    YSU ranks third in scoring defense (15 points per game), third in sacks (4.00 per game), fifth in total defense (271.0 yards per game), sixth in first downs defense (85), ninth in rushing defense (96.2 yards per game), 10th in third down percentage defense (27.7 percent) and 14th in passing yards allowed (174.8),
    YSU's defense has allowed two touchdowns in the last 12 quarters. Both scores came in the fourth quarter (in a span of 3:50) in the Penguins' win over South Dakota.
    On third down, the defense has been extremely tough. In the five wins, opponents are 13-of-68 (19.1 percent). In the three MVFC games, only eight conversions have been successful in 41 tries (19.5 percent).

Late-Game Surges
    YSU's offense has put up most of its totals in the final third of the game the past two weeks.
    In the final 20 minutes against Illinois State, YSU had 190 total yards after producing 175 the first 40. In the fourth quarter YSU had 139 yards, 119 of which came on the ground while the lone 20 was on a touchdown pass from Ricky Davis to Alvin Bailey. YSU's nine-play 87-yard scoring drive was all running by Davis, Jody Webb and Tevin McCaster.
    In the final 23:27 against UNI, YSU had 163 yards. Entering the 8:27 mark of the third period, the Penguins had 91 total offensive yards. In the fourth quarter, McCaster and Martin Ruiz each had one-yard scoring runs.
    YSU had 41 plays in its last three drives and 35 on its first nine drives of the game.

Other Heros Vs. UNI
    Some other standout performances from the contest against UNI included:
    Sophomore DT Savon Smith had two sacks, five solo tackles and a pass breakup. On the second-to-last play of the game he had a sack that pushed the Panthers back five yards.
    Junior WR Darien Townsend had his best day as the Penguins' punt returner. Townsend had returns of 13, 31 and 45 yards. His 45-yard return set up the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter while his 31-yard run back set up a field-goal opportunity.

Dellovade a Key Stopper
    Sophomore LB Armand Dellovade has continued to be a key figure for the Penguins.
    He leads the squad with 35 tackles after tying his career high with eight against UNI. Against the Panthers he had eight total tackles - five solos and three assists.
    Dellovade tied for team-high honors with six tackles, including five solos, at Illinois State. He had seven tackles in the win over South Dakota, with four solos and three assists. Dellovade also had seven stops at West Virginia.
    Dellovade 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.

Ruiz Moves Into Fourth
    Senior TB Martin Ruiz moved into fourth in school history in career rushing yards with his 100-yard performance against UNI. Ruiz now has 3,647 yards in his career and moved ahead of Robby Robson last week.
    Ruiz also had the 16th 100-yard rushing game of his career becoming just the fourth player in school history to do so. He joins Tamron Smith (22), Jamaine Cook (20) and Adrian Brown (16) to reach the 100-yard mark in 16 games during a career.

Moss Having Best Campaign
    DE Avery Moss is off to a strong start to his senior season with 27 total tackles, including 17 solo stops, on the campaign. He has six sacks as well, which ranks him second on the team.
    He had a career-best seven tackles in the victory over South Dakota. Moss was credited with four solos and had three assists in the contest. He had six tackles in a strong outing at West Virginia.
    In the win over UNI he had five tackles and a sack. At Illinois State he had five total tackles and two sacks.
    He has sacks in five of the six 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.

Rivers The Past 29 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 134 total tackles, 94 of which are solos. He has an impressive 46 TFLs, which rank him fourth in school history. This year he has 19 tackles, all 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 29 games, he has 121 total tackles, 41.5 TFLs and 31 sacks. He is averaging 4.1 stops, 1.3 TFLs and more than 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 41 games and has rushed for 3,647 yards on 739 carries and scored 36 touchdowns. Webb has played in 37 contests, rushing for 2,153 yards on 323 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 30 occasions in 41 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 352 yards, an average of 58.7 per game.
    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 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. At West Virginia he had 12 carries for 41 yards to go along with two receptions - the first of his career.
    He is second on the team with four rushing touchdowns.

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 in six games this year to go along with 10 QB hurries. His career high in sacks is 14 which he set in 2014.

Schuler Shows Big Leg
    Redshirt freshman P Mark Schuler has had  a strong start to his career. Schuler leads all freshman FCS punters averaging 41.8 yards per kick. He has six punts of 50 yards or longer and has placed 12 inside the 20-yard line.
    Against UNI 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. 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 51, 59, 50, 47, 44, 41 and 32 (twice) in the game. He had a pair of punts downed at the 14-yard line and one at the one-yard line.

O-Line Off to Solid Start
    A veteran offensive line has helped pave the way to five 365-plus total-offensive yard performances in six contests.
    The Penguins are averaging 258.8 yards rushing and 419.2 yards of total offense per game.  Three times YSU has rushed for more than 275 yards in a game while three times it has passed for more than 215.
    The starting group the first three games was Justin Spencer, Gavin Wiggins, Vitas Hrynkiewicz, Cameron Fraser and Dylan Colucci. Senior Brock Eisenhuth started in place of Fraser the past three ballgames.

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.
    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 six games, Rivers has eight sacks and 10 quarterback hurries while Moss has six sacks and six QB hurries. Moss has 27 total tackles, 17 of which are solos, while Rivers has 19 tackles on the year, all of which are solos.

Offensive Output
    For the first time since 1983, the Penguins eclipsed the 400-yard mark in total offense in each of the first four games of a season. YSU opened the year with a 610-yard performance against Duquesne, totaled 405 yards at West Virginia, had 431 against Robert Morris and finished with 450 in the victory against South Dakota.
    Last year YSU went over 400 yards on five occasions in 11 games.
    Under Offensive Coordinator Shane Montgomery the Penguins have amassed more than 400 yards in 39 contests since the start of the 2010 season.

Kennedy Keeps Excelling
    Sophomore PK Zak Kennedy is having another solid year so far for the Penguins.
    This season, Kennedy is 7-of-9 on field-goal attempts and 21-of-21 on PAT tries. He has excelled at kickoffs with 17 touchbacks in 30 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 became the first freshman placekicker since UNI's Scott Obermeier in 1992 to be tabbed first-team all-league.
    In his career, he has made field goals in 15 games and attempted kicks in 16 of 17 contests.
     Kennedy was just the fifth kicker in school history to make at least 17 field goals in the same season joining Mark Griffith, Jeff Wilkins (twice), Robert Fozkos and Paul McFadden.

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 20 total tackles, including 17 solo stops, and been the leader of a veteran secondary.
    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 4,490 all-purpose yards; third in school history with 16 100-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.

Numbers of Note
• Turnover Margin: Since 1996, the Penguins are 125-32 when they win or tie in the turnover margin. When committing more turnovers, YSU is just 23-60.
Since 1990 YSU is:
• 154-19-2 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.
• 79-9-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in a game.
• 179-15 when leading entering the fourth.
• 82-3-2 when holding opponents to 10 points-or-less in a game.
More recently:
• YSU has scored points in 97 straight games.

Up Next: Indiana State
    The Penguins welcome Indiana State in the annual Homecoming Game next Saturday.