Last road test remains for YSU

YOUNGSTOWN – No one despises going on the road more than Youngstown State’s monstrous left tackle Kyle Bryant.

The planes. The airports. The buses. It’s a pain, especially for a man who stands 6-feet-7, 315 pounds.

“I never get the exit seats,” said Bryant, only half joking as he talked about the seats with a little more leg room than others. “I ask all the time, too.”

Bryant only has to worry about getting a good seat one more time – in the regular season, at least.

The No. 8-ranked Penguins (8-1, 5-0 Missouri Valley Conference) can tighten their grip on a postseason berth with a victory at Northern Iowa (4-5, 0-5) on Saturday – their last regular-season road game of the season. Unfortunately for YSU, not many Penguin teams have enjoyed their trips to Cedar Falls.

YSU’s last win in the UNI-Dome came in the previous century (1999). The Panthers own a 20-7 advantage in the all-time series and are 11-3 at home against the Penguins – winning the previous six matchups – since the series began in 1978.

“That streak needs to be broke,” Bryant said.

This year would the time to get it. The Panthers have lost five straight for the first time in 34 years and will likely be without their starting quarterback and leading rusher on Saturday. The Penguins, on the other hand, have won six in a row for the first time since 2000 and are tied atop the conference standings with top-ranked North Dakota State, which travels to Youngstown on Nov. 16. YSU also is coming off a wild, 38-34, come-from-behind victory against South Dakota.

Yet, the Penguins insist their momentum – and UNI’s struggles – won’t mean anything come 5 p.m. Saturday.

“When you watch them on film, if you don’t see the score of the game, you would look at them and say there’s no way this is a 4-5 football team,” YSU wide receiver Christian Bryan said. “They’ve got really good football players. I’m shocked that they’re 4-5. I expected us to go in here and this be a top, around-the-country, big-time game of the week. It’s still is in our minds. We know that just because they’re 4-5, it’s still UNI. They’re going to be ready to play. It’s going to be a dogfight.”

The Panthers have endured some devastating losses. They led No. 1 NDSU, 23-10, before allowing 14 unanswered fourth-quarter points in a 24-23 defeat. Then they lost, 24-17, in overtime to Southern Illinois; 38-31 in double overtime to South Dakota; 37-34 in double overtime to South Dakota State before last week’s 13-3 setback to Illinois State. Losing their starting quarterback, Sawyer Kollmorgen, because of his second concussion this year certainly doesn’t help.

Taking over is Brion Carnes, a dual-threat QB who is more effective running than throwing. The MVC’s third-leading rusher, David Johnson, is likely out with an ankle injury he suffered against Illinois State. His replacement, Evan Williams, has 147 yards on 34 carries. Johnson ran for 963 yards before the injury.

“Even when they bring those other guys in, you can see that they can still run (the football),” YSU coach Eric Wolford said. “That’s just part of having an established program. Some guys get hurt, some other guys step in.

“They’ve got great team speed overall, and the whole environment that they have there is something you have to be aware of because of the noise factor. They have a great home crowd there and a proud tradition.”

The Penguins hope to build off their second fourth-quarter comeback of the season. While they acknowledged the momentum won’t necessarily carry over, they said the experience is invaluable.

“We need to go through that stuff,” Bryan said. “I think a lot of people look at that and say, ‘Oh, man, they only beat a 4-5 football team in the last 10 seconds.’ Well, that’s not the case. That’s a good football team. Their record doesn’t show how good they were. And you know, we need to go through that because that’s playoff football right there. We plan on making the playoffs, and I’m sure we’ll go through moments like that in the playoffs, so that’s getting us prepared.”

A win Saturday could continue that process.