By Marc Weems
After a hard fought win against Indiana State University last week, the Youngstown State University football team is tied for first place in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. A win against North Dakota State University will give the Penguins sole possession of first place.
Last week, YSU quarterback Hunter Wells started for the first time this season due to injuries to both quarterbacks Ricky Davis and Trent Hosick.
Running back Martin Ruiz said having Wells at quarterback gives them experience and said that the first start last week should have built up his confidence more.
YSU’s offense has been slow the last few weeks only scoring a combined 37 points in three weeks but have gone 2-1 in that span.
“Personally, I enjoy playing good football teams,” Bo Pelini, head coach, said. “I have a tremendous respect for them and that program. I don’t change my approach for any game, and we need to do what we need to do day by day.”
Although the offense has struggled, the run game has done well. YSU has gained 237.8 yards per game. Running back Martin Ruiz has been the leading rusher with 701 yards and seven touchdowns.
Ruiz said with this being a big rivalry, the team is going to come out and give it all they got. He said they have to play a complete game and play hard all 60 minutes.
“We just have to finish things and play better overall,” Ruiz said. “We just have to finish what we start out on the field. I’m fine with being the workhorse on this team.”
With their offense looking to break out, YSU’s defense has been just as good as advertised. YSU’s defense has only given up 15.5 points per game while only allowing 276.1 yards per game.
“NDSU is the same team we have seen in the past, and they aren’t going to change things,” defensive end Derek Rivers said. “Just playing hard is the key. They do the little things very well. They all are big, physical guys which makes them tough.”
For NDSU, their offense averages 27.1 points per game while gaining 399.8 yards per contest. They get 223.4 yards per game from the rushing game.
Their defense allows just 18.4 points per game while giving up 330.2 yards per game but only give up 93.8 yards per game on the ground.
Rivers said that NDSU’s style is similar to YSU’s style of play. He said, “It’s almost like playing ourselves.”
Both teams are first and second in terms of rushing offense and rushing defense. YSU gains more yards per game, while NDSU’s defense gives up fewer yards per game on defense.
Pelini said he was pleased with the running game against Indiana State, but the offense needs to hold onto the football if they want a chance to win in the Fargo Dome.
“I thought that we moved the ball well in between the 20-yard lines,” Pelini said. “We rushed for almost 200 yards, and we had opportunities to score, but we can’t turn the ball over. Those are things we need to clean up.”
Last season, NDSU beat YSU 27-24 on a last minute touchdown by quarterback Easton Stick as YSU blew a 24-10 lead in the fourth quarter. Rivers said that this matchup is the game the Penguins have been waiting for all year.
“There are specific games that still left a sore spot in our hearts,” Rivers said. “We are definitely focused on what we have to do, and not what they are going to do.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 5. Fans can listen to the game on 570 WKBN. The game will be televised on WBCB and a live stream will be available on ESPN3.