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Jeff Kolpack, Published November 13 2013

Huge game ahead for playoff contender Youngstown State

FARGO – The talk earlier in the week was another North Dakota State appearance on ESPN’s “College GameDay,” only this time thousands of people wouldn’t be hanging from the rafters in downtown Fargo. They would be jamming the streets of Youngstown, Ohio.

It didn’t come to reality – the show will broadcast Saturday from the Stanford at USC game, a contest that won’t decide a conference title. The NDSU and Youngstown clash will.

The Bison, 6-0 in the league, can win their third Missouri Valley Football Conference championship with a win. At 5-1, Youngstown can win its last two games and earn the automatic qualifier to the FCS playoffs.

It’s the biggest game in head coach Eric Wolford’s four years as the head coach of the Penguins.

“We have the most on the line. Both teams do,” Wolford said. “It will be a championship atmosphere.”

The previous status for biggest game, Wolford said, was in his first year when the Penguins hosted Southern Illinois in his first Missouri Valley game. The Salukis had a string of 14 straight conference wins, but Youngstown scored 31 straight points to win 31-28.

This time, NDSU has a string of 18 league victories heading into Stambaugh Stadium. It’s a conference record and is six shy of the all-time FCS record held by Penn and Montana.

“Stambaugh is a tough venue, and we’ll have our hands full,” said NDSU head coach Craig Bohl.

The Stambaugh capacity of 20,063 makes it the largest stadium in the Missouri Valley. Ticket sales as of Wednesday morning were a little more than 10,000, but it’s also typical of any November game, said Trevor Parks, Youngstown’s sports information director.

“Everybody waits for the weather,” he said.

There’s more than just a title game on the line, too. The school is inducting legendary coach Jim Tressel into its Athletics Hall of Fame. Tressel won four national championships in his 15 years at Youngstown before moving on to Ohio State.

Bohl visited Tressel at OSU when he was shaping the NDSU program.

“All the impressions I got from him are top shelf,” Bohl said.

The impressions NDSU got from “College GameDay” were top shelf, but a repeat appearance will have to wait. It didn’t help that Youngstown lost last week at Northern Iowa, but the Penguins still can win the league.

It all comes down to Saturday.

“Every week we come out, we focus on that team,” said NDSU receiver Zach Vraa. “Youngstown has been doing great all year, so we had it in the back of our minds that they’re going to be a great team when the time comes. And the time has come to play them, so we’re going to be ready, and we have to give them everything we’ve got.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia