Vision of what’s to come for YSU

Picture this … Hot chocolate in one hand, a soft pretzel with extra salt in the other, both providing a brief respite of warmth to the extremities.

Concrete is below each step as the sudden rush of bone-chilling air rushes over the body. It’s a blustery day on a cold, harden seat three-quarters of the way up the home stands at Stambaugh Stadium. The late fall air seems unbearable, leaving you to wonder why the warm, 68-degree confines of your house wasn’t suitable for a Saturday afternoon.

What is your problem? Bundle up next time. It’s football weather.

Reality sets in as you take your last bite of the pretzel and final sip of the lukewarm beverage, quickly chilled by the elements. The eyes don’t deceive, it’s a 6-foot-3 quarterback who has your undivided attention. You’ve seen him before, a couple of years back. It’s that Girard High School quarterback who led the Indians to a state title game. What’s his name? Yeah, it is Mark Waid.

He looks bigger than his 215-pound frame from high school. Tireless effort in the weight room and dogged off-season efforts have shaped this Mahoning Valley star.

Waid’s uniform is flip-flopped from the dominant black, imposing figure of Girard into the blood red of Youngstown State University, the color nestled deep within a North Dakota State defender as he delivers a blind-side hit on Waid. Slightly rattled, but far from shaken. His team is down by two touchdowns midway through the fourth quarter as the Bison look as if they have crushed the spirit of these once-proud Penguins. That overdone, crappy story line doesn’t play out here. Have you seen who you have at quarterback YSU fan? This is Mark Waid!

He is cut out of the same mold Springfield’s Mark Brungard and Boardman’s Tommy Zetts, to name two, had when they became Penguin legends. That innate desire permeates through their very being, one that trickles down to their teammates.

Waid remembers throwing those well-timed strikes to Mike Belcik, a year older than him. It was Belcik’s determination that led a host of Girard receivers to 5 a.m., off-season sessions — ones Nick Malito embraced as he took Belcik’s role as the Indians’ top receiver. Waid and Malito connected on a 96-yard pass in the Division IV state title game in the shadow of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Greatness was on the field that rainy December night at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in the form of Cincinnati Wyoming’s Evan Prater. His elusive moves behind the impenetrable wall off his offensive line lifted these Cowboys well past the Indians that night. That hopeless feeling Waid experienced a couple of years ago is one he vowed never to happen again. He is a man of his word as he keeps up honors status in pursuit of a finance degree at YSU, keeping a promise to his mother, Amy, to be a true student-athlete.

He fine tunes his athletic skills as well, something he did with the same passion at Girard and now for YSU.

Back to that game, the 14-point deficit. The bullies of the Missouri Valley Athletic Conference, NDSU, are not about to depress this Penguins team again.

Five-minutes remain and YSU faces a fourth-and-15 from midfield. Waid in shotgun formation, trips to the right and single receiver to the left, Malito. Waid avoid the pass rush, quickly looks to his right, but glances to the left and finds Malito in single coverage. Waid threads a tight spiral at the 30. First down. Two plays later, Waid rushes in from 10 yards. Looks like that Girard team that made it to the state final. Girard Athletic Director Nick Cochran, who has a sideline pass, is looking on with the same delight he had every weekend watching these former Indians. Cochran knows Waid’s position all too well. He was the Penguins signal caller a couple decades ago, proudly calling himself one of those YSU local legends.

Three minutes left. An onside kick pops in the air, travels 15 yards and is recovered by one of the Penguins as the 17,000-plus in the stands (you read that correctly) echo their collective voices down to the frozen playing surface. The players harness that energy and move forward.

Sixty yards is between YSU tying this game. The MVFC championship and first-round home game in the FCS playoffs is within the Penguins’ grasp.

A couple penalties push YSU back to the 30. Third-and-20 upcoming. Waid takes off down the field and slides past the 50. First down. Clock running. No timeouts remain with less than a minute displayed on the scoreboard.

Two running plays stopped for little or no gain as the stout, Bison front seems impassable. The third-down throw is almost picked off, even though there’s a hint of interference on the play. Don’t worry, YSU Coach Bo Pelini is even tempered and lets things play out on fourth down, a stark contrast from a couple of years ago when he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.

It’s the game and season for these Penguins, a point in time YSU has faced more than its fair share of times over the past decade. Waid goes back, faces another strong pass rush, eludes a couple of defenders, enough to see a target in sight with less than 10 seconds remaining. He launches the football down to the 5 where he finds Malito. The former Girard teammate wiggles out of the grasp of the NDSU defender and into the end zone, down by one with a second remaining.

YSU is lining up for two. What are they thinking? Tie the game and go to overtime. That’s conventional thinking. The Penguins want the win. Waid takes the ball under center, fakes a pass to the end zone, tucks and follows his blockers into the end zone for the one-point win. The MVFC title and first-round home game is with YSU.

Celebration erupts in the stands and on the field, leaving you wondering why you were complaining about the cold.

Winning with home-grown football. You got to love it.