FARGO, N.D. - Before taking off on Friday's flight to Fargo, defensive coordinator Joe Tresey got a surprise on the plane - a birthday cake and a rendition of "Happy Birthday" from the Penguins.
Though the song might not have been on key, it was a fitting way to start the road trip to take on the unbeaten North Dakota State Bison. It showed that the team was loose, but also of how they have bonded together through four games this season.
"I like going on the road," YSU coach Eric Wolford said. "I like getting together on Friday afternoon early, watching some tape together, doing some walkthroughs and we have the opportunity to spend some time together. We have a very close knit team."
This is the first overnight trip for the Penguins this season. YSU opened on the road against Pittsburgh, but with the 6 p.m. start, the Penguins stayed in Youngstown the night before. Since then, YSU has played in the friendly confines of Stambaugh Stadium.
Where the Penguins will be playing today is anything but friendly. The Fargodome is sold out for the matchup that pits the No. 1 Bison against the No. 3 Penguins and the crowd is hostile to say the least.
"This is (probably one of my favorite road trips)," running back Jamaine Cook said. "Their fans are crazy up there, ever since I was a freshman, their fans are crazy up there. It's a great environment to play in. It's in a dome, so it's just one of those environments that you live to play for and that you love to play in."
Cook has fond memories of the Fargodome from last season. The senior rushed for 147 yards and caught a touchdown pass from Kurt Hess when the Penguins upset the Bison, 27-24, on Nov. 12, 2011.
However, because YSU came in last season and put the only blemish on North Dakota State's eventual championship run, Wolford expects the environment to even be more hostile than normal.
"The crowd is on you. That's part of the atmosphere. That's something you enjoy," Wolford said. "I think you have to take the crowd and that noise and take that and channel that into your body and play with it. There's nothing better than playing in a hostile environment."
While today's environment will be hostile, the Penguins used the trip and the overnight stay to think about the biggest game of the year in a more smoothing environment.
"There are really no distractions. You really have nothing else to do (but think about the game)," Hess said. "Everything that you do is in the hotel. You have walkthroughs and time with your teammates and time with your coaches to spend time and talk about questions you might have."
Being the most important game in the FCS this weekend - pitting two top five teams against each other, who are also in the Missouri Valley Football Conference - it could be easy for the Penguins to be too hyped up, having too much time to think before the game. But Wolford has that under control.
"I always talk to the team that there's a right time to peak," Wolford said. "On Friday night, you don't need to be walking around your hotel room all fired up. You have to peak at the right time. You have to be able to flip your switch and at 1:07 p.m. (Central Time). We need to be able to flip our switch."
If the Penguins are able to flip the switch at the right time and leave Fargo with another victory, rest assured it will be more than Happy Birthday they will be singing on the plane ride home.