Now or never for YSU

YOUNGSTOWN – It was the fourth quarter, his team down by five and everything was on the line.

There was 1 second left in a winner-take-all scenario, and it all came down to this.

Oh yeah, Youngstown State senior Dale Peterman still remembers playing football in the backyard with his brother, throwing the pigskin back and forth in the biggest game his imagination could dream up.

“This is that game,” he said.

That’s the mindset of the Penguins (9-3, 5-2 Missouri Valley Conference) as they prepare to clash with South Dakota State (7-4, 4-3) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium.

A win would almost certainly guarantee YSU a playoff berth. The MVC has sent two teams to the postseason for 18 straight seasons, and a victory Saturday would give the Penguins an outright second-place finish, 10 wins and a school-record six conference victories.

Yet, there a few road blocks along the way.

One is the health of standout quarterback Kurt Hess, who played only three series last week because of an ankle injury. Youngstown State coach Eric Wolford said Hess “is expected to play,” adding that YSU was playing it safe against North Dakota State.

“He came in Sunday and said he felt better than he did all of last week,” Wolford said of Hess, who was unavailable for comment. “He feels great, so obviously that’s a good thing,”

Another factor is the Jackrabbits have just as much on the line, as a win would put them in a tie for second in the MVC. South Dakota State has won three straight, and the Penguins haven’t beat SDSU since 2007.

“Since I’ve been here, I haven’t beat them,” senior linebacker and co-captain Dom Rich said. “So, that’s kind of fuel for the fire. I want to go out there Saturday and beat these guys.

“This is the first round of the playoffs for us,” he added. “This is a huge game. This is bigger than last week. This is a must-win.”

The final issue is that YSU has been in this situation before, and it hasn’t ended well. A win two weekends ago against injury-riddled Northern Iowa or last week against the top-ranked Bison would have sent the Penguins to the playoffs for the first time since 2006, yet they came up short both times. They were in a similar spot in 2011, when a 38-34 home loss to Missouri State in the season finale cost them a chance at the playoffs.

YSU hopes to exorcise those demons.

“This is what college football players should live for right here,” Peterman said. “This is one of those games when you go in the backyard with your brother, and it’s the last second of the last play. We gotta get it. I think everybody on the team understands that, and we’ve just got have to come out and be focused all week. Hopefully, on Saturday, all that hard work pays off.”

INJURY NOTES: Back-up quarterback Dante Nania is “more than likely out,” according to Wolford, with a separated shoulder that occurred on a roughing-the-passer penalty against North Dakota State. Starting corner Julius Childs is “questionable” with an undisclosed injury, but strong safety Donald D’Alesio “will play.” Childs and D’Alesio collided while making a tackle against the Bison.