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Penguins out to maintain momentum

YOUNGSTOWN — Finding a way to win wasn’t easy for the Youngstown State football team for the first half of the FCS spring season.

Now that the Penguins have figured it out, they don’t want to lose it.

Their next opponent won’t make that easy.

YSU squares off against sixth-ranked North Dakota in the Penguins’ last home game of the spring at noon on Saturday.

“There’s a lot of positive energy going around the facility,” YSU senior safety Zaire Jones said. “Guys are excited about us moving forward. We finally got some confidence as a unit and as an offense. We’re both one and the same when we’re playing complementary football, so we’re excited moving forward.”

The Penguins (1-4, 1-4 Missouri Valley Football Conference) had been so close to pulling out a victory in several games to start the season.

YSU had close battles against teams ranked No. 1 (North Dakota State), No. 5 (Northern Iowa), No. 11 (Southern Illinois) and No. 8 (South Dakota State). The Penguins were in control from start to finish against the first unranked team they faced, beating South Dakota, 28-10, last Saturday.

It was the highest scoring output of the season for YSU, and it was another impressive showing for junior running back Jaleel McLaughlin, who ran for 166 yards — his third straight 100-yard performance. It also was another step in the right direction for first-year starting quarterback Mark Waid, a redshirt freshman from Girard High School.

“(McLaughlin) is a special player,” said YSU coach Doug Phillips of the Notre Dame College transfer. “He’s proven he can produce, whether it’s at the Division II level or now at the FCS level. It starts up front. The first couple of games, we weren’t exactly where we needed to be on the offensive line, and those guys developed each week. There’s new challenges, especially this week with a team that is quick, fast and has a lot of blitz and movement. But our offensive line has shown development over the last four weeks. And Jaleel is fast, explosive, he has great vision, and he’s been doing it. The last two years (at Notre Dame College), he had over 5,000 yards, so he definitely knows how to find open space and finish a run.”

Waid’s numbers have not been as impressive, but he continues to make key plays at critical times.

He is the Penguins’ second-leading rusher behind McLaughlin with 251 yards (McLaughlin is second in the conference with 469). Waid is completing 61 percent of his passes (42-of-69), but he’s averaging just 8.1 yards per completion (that’s 341 passing yards in five games) with two touchdowns. Still, the crafty Waid has helped piece together seven scoring drives of 12-or-more plays and has continuously put YSU in position to tie or win games late in the second half.

Waid has started three straight games and essentially won a quarterback battle with junior Joe Craycraft, who has missed some time with a leg injury.

“Each week, he gets better in his decision making,” Phillips said of Waid. “… As he matures, watches more film, practices more, gets in tune with receivers and coverages (he’ll get better). Quarterback is not an easy position. You’ve got to know every formation, make sure guys are lined up right, you’ve gotta get the play in, you’ve gotta know where the protection is going. If they’re blitzing from the (wide side of the) field, I’ve got to switch the protection to slide to the field. Now I’ve got to read the coverages. OK, if they roll down to the field, now my eyes have to go to the boundary.

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