Photos By Ric Kruszynski
The first Bison football game I ever attended was on November 12, 2011. My dad and I sat up high in the Fargdome in what I believe was either section 27 or 28 behind the east end zone. I was 12 days from turning 18 and the Bison were undefeated at the time (9-0). Admittedly, I was not a Bison fan and didn’t pay too much attention to them, but my dad was an alum and he wanted to take me to a game. Obviously, I obliged as a general football fan.
On that day, an unranked Youngstown State team (who finished the 2011 season 6-5) came into the Fargodome and shocked the Bison, winning 27-24. At the time, it was the Penguins’ third victory over the Bison in four seasons. Since that November day inside the Fargodome, NDSU has beaten Youngstown State seven straight times.
In all, the 11 meetings between the two schools have been relatively close. North Dakota State lost by a combined 12 points in 2008 and 2009 and only beat the Penguins by five in 2010. Removing the infamous 2011 loss, NDSU handled their business against the Penguins before Bo Pelini got the job.
From 2012 to 2014, the Bison had a 121 to 38 scoring differential in three games against Youngstown State. The most notable of the three games would be the 48-7 clubbing NDSU handed out on Homecoming 2012. John Crockett scored two touchdowns while Brock Jensen threw two scores. Add in two interceptions from the Bison (highlighted by a Marcus Williams 98-yard interception return and a touchdown) and it was the most lopsided result between the two teams in the Missouri Valley era.
However, there has been some high drama between the two despite NDSU owning the series. Since Bo Pelini became the head coach in 2015, the Penguins have always given the Bison a run for their money. Outside of 2016, the Penguins have kept their games with the Bison within 10 points. This included a pair of three-point Bison victories in 2015 and 2017.
The 2015 game saw North Dakota State down 24-10 heading into the fourth quarter. It took 17 unanswered points from the Bison to capture that win in Youngstown. Easton Stick rushed for the game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds remaining in the game. Many will also recall the game two seasons ago in Youngstown. The Penguins battled the Bison, taking them to overtime. It was a 36-yard field goal from kicker Cam Pedersen that sealed a victory for NDSU. Stick accounted for three touchdowns in that game and Youngstown State quarterback Nathan Mays threw two touchdowns.
Last year was also a competitive match-up. The undefeated Bison took on a reeling Penguins team with NDSU entering as heavy favorites. While the final results saw NDSU win 17-7, one could argue it was NDSU’s worst performance all season. The Bison were able to stave off a relentless attack from quarterback Nathan Mays, who came into the game for then-starter Montgomery VanGorder. Mays accounted for 178 of Youngstown’s 280 yards of offense and their lone touchdown. The senior will be under center again on Saturday against the Bison.
The key commonality between those three Youngstown State teams is that most people had written them off going into the game with North Dakota State. Pelini’s 2015 team went 5-6 overall and began Missouri Valley play 1-3 with losses to Illinois State, South Dakota State and Southern Illinois. With four losses already on their record, playoff hopes were slim, but that did not stop the Penguins from competing and holding a 14 point lead over the Bison through three quarters.
While the 2017 team began the year 3-1 (including a win over South Dakota State) they proceeded to go 0-4 in the month of October. Losing to South Dakota the week before, Youngstown State needed a signature win on their résumé. While they were able to take the Bison to overtime, they could not do enough to win. The Penguins went on to lose their next two games and went 6-5 on the season.
Last year’s Penguins team was written off after week one. Youngstown State lost to Butler, a Pioneer League school in their season opener. Leading up to the game with North Dakota State, the Penguins were 2-3 in the Missouri Valley with losses to Western Illinois, South Dakota State and Indiana State. By that time, Youngstown State already had five total losses and their playoff hopes were dashed. Yet, they were able to hang with North Dakota State for four quarters. In a game that was truly written off by most casual FCS viewers, the Penguins almost shattered NDSU’s historic 2018 season.
The storyline seems to be the same heading into this week’s game in Ohio. The Penguins opened the year 4-0 and many had this November 2 game circled on their calendar. However, Youngstown State has since fallen to Northern Iowa, South Dakota State and Southern Illinois (in consecutive weeks, no less). With three conference losses, their chances of winning the Missouri Valley are gone, but their playoffs hopes have yet to disappear.
Coming off a dominant win over league doormat Western Illinois, the Penguins surely have upset on their minds on Saturday. North Dakota State is coming off a huge win over South Dakota State on the road and their momentum is sky-high. Many may look at this game or the gambling lines and assume North Dakota State will take care of business in Youngstown.
While the Bison might do that, history tells us something different. It seems that, once again, North Dakota State and Youngstown State are in for a competitive dogfight come Saturday.
North Dakota State vs Youngstown State Results (Since 2008)
2008: Bison 24, Penguins 32
2009: Bison 35, Penguins 39
2010: Bison 34, Penguins 29
2011: Bison 24, Penguins 27
2012: Bison 48, Penguins 7
2013: Bison 35, Penguins 17
2014: Bison 38, Penguins 14
2015: Bison 27, Penguins 24
2016: Bison 24, Penguins 3
2017: Bison 27, Penguins 24 (Overtime)
2018: Bison 17, Penguins 7