Return of Tressel enthralls Youngstown crowd

YOUNGSTOWN – The biggest crowd of the season rose to its feet and erupted in cheers, and for a moment, an aura filled Stambaugh Stadium.

It was the same feeling that led to the stadium earning the name the Ice Castle.

Before Jim Tressel arrived, it was just another football field.

Fans from both teams stood and applauded as Tressel, the legendary YSU coach who led the Penguins to four national championships, was announced during a halftime ceremony honoring this year’s hall of fame class. Tressel said the standing ovation was a touching moment at a stadium and city that shaped him as a person.

“It’s like your life passes in front of you,” he said. “This is a very, very, very special place. My children grew up here. I watched 15 groups of young men grow up here. We had a lot of fun here. The fans, the way that they supported us and the way that the community embraced us, there’s nothing like it.

“We had so much wonderful support over all those years,” he added. “Everyone knows that there was a love affair that we had with our fans and they had with our teams. It was just rekindled today.”

Tressel, whose .700 winning percentage (135-57-2) during his 15-year tenure is by far the best of any coach in school history, said he was there as a fan as much as he was a inductee.

“It’s fun that you’re back for a game that means a lot and you’re seeing a good football game,” he said. “Two good teams, and it’s November. We used to say, ‘November’s for contenders, and we’ll find out if we’re a contender today.’ “

Also being inducted during the ceremony were Darnell Clark (football), LeVar Greene (football), Tom Harder (football), Anthony Hunt (men’s basketball), Santi Nalluri (women’s tennis) and Mark Thomas (baseball).

QB INJURIES: Senior quarterback Kurt Hess, who played just three drives in the Penguins’ 35-17 loss to North Dakota State because of an injured ankle, said he fully expects to play Saturday. The Penguins square off with South Dakota State at home in a game that will likely determine the playoff fate for both teams.

“Very good,” said Hess when asked of the chances he’ll start that game. “I’m going to be in there doing everything I can. It’s not that severe, but I’ll be in next week.”

Hess said the ankle is “sprained with a little bit of ligament damage, but the swelling is down and it’s feeling better.”

DEFENSE STEPS UP: It may not be evident in a stat line that shows North Dakota State amassing 483 total yards, but the YSU defense played well on Saturday.

The ‘D’ was put in a number of difficult situations and spent more than half the game on the field because of the Bison held the ball for nearly 10 minutes longer than YSU. Furthermore, the Penguins were down to their third-string quarterback for half the game on offense but were still in the game late in the fourth quarter. That was thanks to a defense that forced three turnovers, including an interception of quarterback Brock Jensen, who had just four through nine games.

“We played hard on defense,” senior linebacker and co-captain Dom Rich said. “We had some new schemes in there this week, and we handled it well. We played with good energy, and I can’t really ask for more as a senior captain. We had a great week of practice. The focus Thursday, Friday and this morning was better than it’s been all year. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out for us today.”

FAN SUPPORT: Hess and Rich both said Saturday was the loudest they’ve heard Stambaugh Stadium all season. The attendance of 13,164 was the highest of the year.

“I hope all these fans come out next week and cheer like they were today,” Rich said. “I think that was huge. They were helping us on third down on defense. They were louder than they’ve been all season, and we’re going to need that again next week.”

Coach Eric Wolford also noticed the noise level and the energy it brought to his team.

“It was loud,” he said. “The tailgate lots were revin’. That’s what the Ice Castle atmosphere should be like, and I would expect they’ll be back out