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Seniors seek upset in final home contest

Penguins host No. 5 NDSU

YOUNGSTOWN — A year ago while at Marist, Grant Dixon was lifting weights in the basement of his house because of the pandemic shutdowns, not sure what the future would hold.

Now, he and the 14 other departing seniors on Youngstown State’s football team are preparing for their finale at Stambaugh Stadium, with the No. 5 North Dakota State Bison storming into town.

It’s an uphill climb, to be sure. The Bison are 8-1 and have won the last nine contests against YSU, which is currently 2-6. NDSU also leads the all-time series 11-4.

Between that and the curtain dropping on their time at YSU, Dixon, the team’s star linebacker, says the team is motivated.

“We have a chance to do something we haven’t done here at Youngstown in a long time, and obviously it’s my last home game here, so I’d like to go out with a good victory,” Dixon said.

The Bison, of course, have other ideas. NDSU is in the hunt for yet another national title, and also is in the driver’s seat for the Missouri Valley Football Conference championship.

Despite those successes and the history of the NDSU program, Dixon says the Penguins are treating this the same as every other game they play — with a day-by-day and week-by-week approach.

Still, Dixon says the tough schedule — YSU has faced plenty of Top 25 opponents this season — is one of the things that attracted him to Youngstown when he was transferring from Marist.

“That was one of the biggest things when I decided to come here — every single week you’re playing a top team. The last four games of the season, we’re playing all top teams,” Dixon said. “To be quite frank, every team we play in the Missouri Valley is a great team, so we approach it game-by-game, week-by-week, the same approach.”

He added, “Obviously there’s some history behind their team, but as long as we do what we need to do, we’re feeling confident.”

The two programs met during the spring season in each team’s opener, a 25-7 NDSU win. YSU trailed 11-0 at half and 18-7 entering the fourth quarter.

Since then, Dixon says some personnel have changed for the Bison, but the team has remained consistent.

“That’s why they’ve won so much in years past. They’re so consistent year in and year out. Even with new guys in and when their coaches leave, they’re very consistent and they have quality football players,” Dixon said. “It’s going to be a dog fight (today), and we’re ready to go well.”

Dixon and the defense will have their hands full. NDSU’s offense averages 31.9 points per game, courtesy of the MVFC’s top rushing attack. The Bison have stampeded to 248.1 yards per game this year, which slots them fifth in the FCS.

That rushing attack is through the talented tandem of Dominic Gonnella and Koba Johnson. Gonnella has run for 380 yards and two touchdowns, while Johnson has 377 yards and a score.

TaMerik Williams also gets touches, and has 296 yards and four touchdowns.

“They run the ball really well,” Dixon acknowledged. “They have a couple good receivers, the tight ends are real big. But every team we play has a similar profile on all their players, so if you take the name out of it, just come to play and do your job, that’s the biggest thing.”

Kickoff is slated for noon. The YSU Marching Pride will perform at 11:40, and the Senior Day celebration will take place during that time.

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