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Craig Thomas | | January 4, 2017

Players to watch for Youngstown State

  YSU head coach Bo Pelini smiles after the Penguins' upset win against Jacksonville State.

FRISCO, Texas -- The last time James Madison and Youngstown State faced off in a football game, a Jackson Pollock painting had just sold for $140 million, iTunes had sold its one billionth song and Tom Cruise just married Katie Holmes during what one can only assume was a beautiful ceremony at the Odescalchi Castle in Bracciano, Italy.

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Bo Pelini was scheming defenses for Les Miles at LSU while Mike Houston was helping Brevard start their program in Division II as the Tornados Defensive Coordinator and Associate Head Coach.

The year was 2006 and the Dukes and Guins met in the first round of the FCS playoffs. Youngstown State won 35-31, thanks to 15 unanswered points, including the game-winning touchdown with 1:12 left on the clock.

The two teams were regular foes in the playoffs from 1990-1992.  The FCS Championship will be the fifth meeting between the two programs, with YSU with the overall edge 3-1.

The Penguins (12-1) come into Frisco riding a six-game winning streak, while the Dukes (13-1) are winners of 11 in a row. If these two teams were a Twitter account, they would only use ‘football’ and ‘fire’ emojis.

Both coaches stressed how hard it was to reach the championship game but when you step back – both are similar in attitude and style of play.

“You have two teams from the hands-down, two best conferences in the nation,” Houston said when asked about the matchup with YSU. “Over the last probably two months of the season, there's probably a lot of argument to be made that these are the two hottest teams in the country.”

It’s very rare for a football coach to say “We need Player X to be at his best or we will lose.”

That just doesn’t happen in a game like football. But here are some players who are expected to make an impact if Youngstown State becomes the first three-loss team to win the FCS Championship since Richmond pulled off the feat in 2008.  

No. 11 | Derek Rivers | 6-5, 250 pounds | Defensive End | Sr.
Rivers is the leader of the Penguins defense. He earned second team All-American honors. He can flat out get to the quarterback -- a trait that is useful in a defensive end, and his 40 career sacks reflect that unique skill.  Those sack numbers are good enough to earn him the title of ‘sack king’ at both Youngstown State and the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

No. 9 | Avery Moss | 6-3, 265 pounds | Defensive End | Sr.
The other half of YSU’s twin terrors on the defensive line, Moss followed head coach Bo Pelini to YSU from Nebraska. Pelini says that both he and Moss ‘have been through a lot together,’ and is very pleased with the young man’s maturity since transferring to Youngstown.  His 9.5 sacks on the season added to YSU’s record setting total of 47 sacks this season.

No. 6 | Hunter Wells | 6-5, 220 pounds | Quarterback | Jr.
Hunter Wells started the season as the Penguins fourth-string quarterback and he is ending the season under center in the FCS Championship game. Football is funny that way. He’s guided the Penguins to a 7-1 record since taking over in late October. When asked about Wells’ play of late Pelini complimented him but added “the best thing for a quarterback is to play well around him.”

No. 20 | Jody Webb | 5-9, 175 pounds | Running Back | Sr.
The sparkplug for the Penguins offense, the running back hasn’t rushed for less than 100 yards in each of YSU’s playoff appearances. His playoff performance is nothing short of remarkable, exceeding key offense stats in four playoff games compared to nine regular season games. He is always a threat to go the distance whenever he touches the ball.

No. 77 | Dylan Colucci | 6-6, 330 pounds | Offensive Tackle | Sr.
The OT was named First-Team All MVFC this year and his play controlling the line of scrimmage is one of the reasons for Hunter Wells improved play. Colucci and his mates dominated the line against Eastern Washington, blowing open holes for YSU’s Tevin McCaster and Jody Webb and who rushed for 154 yards and 101 yards, respectively.

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