Searching for 7: ‘Guins look to extend conference streak

Quarterback Kurt Hess throws downfield in Saturday’s game against Illinois State. The Penguins won, 59-21. Photos by Dustin Livesay/The Jambar.
Quarterback Kurt Hess throws downfield in Saturday’s game against Illinois State. The Penguins won, 59-21. Photo by Dustin Livesay/The Jambar.

It’s given that every football team in the nation wants to improve every week. Youngstown State University says it every week, too.

But there’s something different when the Penguins say it.

“In the locker room, we can just feel that something’s different,” senior Kyle Sirl said in Tuesday’s press conference. “I think we’re really focused on improving every day. It’s just we’re tired of people saying ‘same old, same old.’ We just really want to prove everybody wrong and show that we can get better every week.”

The 15th-ranked Penguins (6-1, 3-0) have been doing that week in and week out. Their most recent victory was a 59-21 win over Illinois State University on Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium.

It’s not the media or any other outside source that motivates YSU before each contest, including this Saturday’s annual Homecoming game against Western Illinois University.

“We’re self-motivated,” head coach Eric Wolford said. “These kids want to play hard, they want to have success, [and] they’ve invested.”

The Leathernecks (3-4, 1-2) are coming off a 38-14 defeat to South Dakota State University. They committed four turnovers that led to three Jackrabbit touchdowns.

“They run some similar things that we do offensively as far as concepts,” Wolford said. “Defensively, I think they’re a well-coached defense. I think they’re creative, and I think they scheme you up a little bit every week in trying to do certain things.”

Senior offensive tackle Andrew Sinko said the biggest challenge will be “getting the run game going against them.”

Against the Redbirds, YSU had three rushers with more than 60 rushing yards and four different players rushed a touchdown. Freshman Martin Ruiz led the pack with 85 rushing yards on eight carries and a score. He left the game early with a sprained ankle. Wolford said the starting tailback will be ready for Saturday.

Freshman Jody Webb rushed seven times for 76 yards and a score. Sophomore Demond Hymes rushed nine times for 65 yards and
a score.

“It’s nice when you got all of those guys back there that can run,” Wolford said. “Speed and power; that’s a good combination. They can all improve. I can assure you on that.”

Senior quarterback Kurt Hess also ran one in, which was one of five touchdowns overall. Hess finished with 311 passing yards and 13 rushing, including his 16-yard touchdown run on

Hess spread the ball all over the gridiron. Sophomore Marcel Caver caught three passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Andrew Williams nabbed three passes as well for 68 yards and a score. Senior receiver Jelani Berassa and senior tight end Carson Sharbaugh also caught a touchdown pass each.

“It’s not like [Hess] has a favorite receiver,” Williams said. “Being under him for like two or three years, I learned a lot from him. He’s the captain. We look up to him. I know he’s going to
do good.”

The Homecoming Parade begins at 2 p.m. followed by kickoff at 4 p.m.

“If the defense is playing really well, it gives the offense a cushion to make a mistake here and there, and vice versa,” Sirl said. “But when the offense plays so well, we can get some younger guys in on defense and give them some experience.

“It’s really just about focusing on your job. It’s not about relaxing or expecting the other half of the ball to take care of what you
messed up.”