YOUNGSTOWN — For the first time since 2016, Youngstown State will play in the FCS playoffs.
After finishing the regular season 7-4 overall and 5-3 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, the Penguins earned an at-large bid from the FCS selection committee on Sunday.
YSU will host Duquesne (7-4, 6-1 NEC) this Saturday at 5 p.m. at Stambaugh Stadium. The winner of that game will travel to face No. 8 seed Villanova at noon on Dec. 2.
“I knew when I saw Duquesne, if we weren’t going to be the next one — just like last year, when I saw St. Francis and then I saw Delaware go in that spot, I kind of knew — so I knew if we didn’t see Youngstown State under that line, that we didn’t make the dance,” head coach Doug Phillips said. “For us, it was just a relief and a celebration, celebrating what our kids have done over the past 11 games.”
After their 34-17 victory in their regular season finale at Murray State on Saturday, the waiting game began for the Penguins. YSU anxiously awaited its fate from last night until this morning.
“I think (quarterback) Mitch (Davidson) texted me this morning saying, ‘Coach, put Lincoln (Phillips’ son) in that Penguin outfit. He’s good luck,’” Phillips said. “You’re sitting there all morning not knowing that you’re in. That’s what happens unless you’re an automatic bid. You sit there and wait, and just the relief when we saw Youngstown State jump up on that line — it was excitement that we get to play another week with these kids.”
The YSU players and coaches all gathered in the Jim and Melissa DiBacco Family Leadership Center on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. to watch the FCS Selection Show on ESPNU.
Once YSU was unveiled on the bracket line beneath Duquesne onscreen, all the coaches and players burst out in cheers and applause.
“Everybody was just happy,” junior defensive lineman Chris Fitzgerald said. “It was a breath of new air. Words can’t explain what was happening — we were just excited.”
YSU won one of six MVFC teams selected into the playoff field.
Defending national champion South Dakota State (No. 1) and South Dakota (No. 3) both earned top-8 seeds and first-round byes. Southern Illinois, North Dakota and North Dakota State each also earned bids.
Southern Illinois is facing Nicholls State in No. 4 seed Idaho’s pod, North Dakota is facing Sacramento State in No. 3 seed South Dakota’s pod and North Dakota State will face Drake in No. 6 seed Montana State’s pod. The top-seeded Jackrabbits will await the winner of Gardner-Webb and Mercer.
“You look at the strength of schedule, you look at who’s in the top-25 each and every week, and we play in the toughest league in the country,” Phillips said. “I say that day-in and day-out. You go on the road in this league, from top to bottom, you gotta be ready to play football. Last year, they only took three (MVFC teams). This year was different. I think you saw more ranked teams from our league, and the six teams I think are well-deserving.”
The season continues for at least one more week for the Penguins. Now YSU will return to its game-week schedule.
The Penguins will take the rest of Sunday to prepare for the Dukes, and then spend Monday reviewing film with the team and getting treatment, before hitting the ground running on Tuesday with the riggors and physicality of their Tuesday practice on Beede Field.
“Our kids are excited to know that it doesn’t end,” Phillips said. “They get to come back and practice and go in that locker room one more time. The excitement — I can feel it in this building.
“We have non-mandatory mobility, and I guarantee all of our starters will be up there doing a little bit of mobility (Sunday), taking care of their bodies. You play 11 games, you gotta take care of the guys — we gotta get healthy. But they’ve got two days and we’ll get prepared for a great Tuesday practice, which is our most physical practice. We got (Sunday) to get healthy and learn more about Duquesne, get a game plan together and it starts Tuesday with having a great practice on the field.”