Over the last decade, the Bison have dominated opponents on homecoming each and every year. Over their last ten homecoming matchups, the Bison have won by an average of nearly 22 points per game. Despite not reaching the end zone in the second half this Saturday, the Bison (4-1, 2-0 MVFC) were able to hang on to a two-score win over the Youngstown State University Penguins. Although Youngstown was picked to finish near the bottom of the conference, players like Jaleel McLaughlin do not make the Penguins an easy matchup for any team they play. Thanks to a strong third-down defense complimented by the noise of 18,055 fans in attendance, McLaughlin and the Penguins (2-2, 0-1 MVFC) were kept out of the end zone for a large part of the game.
The crowd at the Fargodome was certainly the largest and loudest it’s been all year. The fans served as the “12th man” for much of the first half, causing multiple Youngstown State false start penalties. The Penguins were able to do very little in the early parts of the game due to the crowd noise.
“It was really good, it was awesome,” Head Coach Matt Entz said of Bison Nation. “Homecoming we anticipate there being a tremendous crowd and I think it was. I think they impacted the game a number of different ways. It’s tough for a quarterback to have composure back there when it’s hundred plus in decibels and it feels like the sound is suffocating you in the huddle or even in the pocket.”
Picking up where he left off from last week, Bison fullback Hunter Luepke found himself in the end zone twice in the first quarter. The first of which came on a two-yard touchdown run immediately after an exceptional 27-yard over-the-shoulder catch. The catch caught the attention of his teammates and possessed a resemblance to one of Luepke’s touchdown catches in last season’s semifinal victory over James Madison.
“It’s just freakish, that’s the best word for it to be honest with you,” safety Michael Tutsie said of Luepke’s receiving abilities. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player like him. The way he’s compact and he’s obviously a big guy but just the way he moves around, things that he can do, it doesn’t seem like it’s possible. He’s an outstanding player I’m just glad he’s on our team.”
On the following drive, Luepke would find the end zone for the 10th time this season through just five games. The 12-yard rushing score put the Bison up 14-0 with 27 seconds to go in the first quarter. Following the score, Luepke would gain the attention of national media. One of those being NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. stating on Twitter “Hunter Luepke is going to be a good pro.”
“He’s a really good Bison and we’re fortunate to have a young man like him,” Entz said of Luepke.
“That guy’s special,” Tutsie also said of Luepke. “We’ll be on the sideline watching him do what he does and we’re just like man I’m glad he’s on our team. I think he epitomizes what it means to be a Bison coming out and doing what he needs to do every single day.”
Youngstown State would get on the board on the ensuing possession with a 22-yard field goal, but the Bison would respond immediately. Capping off a 12-play 75-yard drive was a 17-yard rushing touchdown by senior running back Kobe Johnson to put the Bison up 21-3 with 3:45 to go in the first half. Following an interception by Tutsie, the Bison would take that 21-3 into halftime.
To start the second half, the Penguins made a change at quarterback by putting Mitch Davidson into the game replacing Demeatric Crenshaw. The Penguins would find some life offensively thanks to Davidson and McLaughlin and add points to the board via a 47-yard field goal from Colt McFadden late in the third quarter.
The Bison offense would be held scoreless for the entirety of the third quarter as they were unable to finish drives in opponent territory. After punting on their first two possessions of the second half, the Bison finally put points on the board via a 39-yard field goal from Griffin Crosa with only seven and half minutes remaining in the game.
“I definitely wasn’t satisfied with only scoring six points in the second half,” quarterback Cam Miller said on the Bison’s 2nd half offense. “I felt like we got to the 35-yard line and we just kind of stalled. We couldn’t get that big play to get us down there.”
The Penguins would not back down despite the 18-point deficit. Already possessing 150 rushing yards to his stat line, McLaughlin made his presence known in the passing game by hauling in a short pass from Davidson and using his electric speed to take the ball 35 yards for a touchdown. Following a successful two-point conversion, McLaughlin and the Penguins had trimmed the Bison lead down to 10 with 4:30 remaining in the game.
“He’s dynamic and just to see his confidence (rise),” Youngstown coach Doug Phillips on McLaughlin. “He wanted the football, and they weren’t easy yards. He’s fast, quick, but he’s strong and if you don’t go in there to make the tackle, he will bust it.”
The ensuing onside kick from the Penguins was unsuccessful as the ball was knocked out of bounds. North Dakota State would officially put the game away thanks to reigning MVFC Special Teams Player of the Week Griffin Crosa’s 38-yard field goal with under a minute remaining to give the Bison a 27-14 lead.
“He’s just been more consistent at practice over the course of the last couple weeks,” Entz said of Crosa. “A lot of times your field with specialists is based on practice reps, especially with a kicker and he’s hitting them in practice. We feel comfortable with him, and the guys up front are doing a great job in protection.”
The Bison will hit the road next week as they travel to Terre Haute, Indiana to take on the Indiana State Sycamores. Kickoff from Memorial Stadium will be at noon. The Bison will be back home Saturday, October 15 where they take on South Dakota State at 2:30 p.m. at the Fargodome. Student tickets will be available at GoBison.com/Students beginning at 6 p.m. on Saturday, October 8th.
Hunter Luepke; 106 all-purpose yards, 2 TD; Spencer Waege; 4 Tackles, 1.5 Sacks; Cam Miller; 13-18, 145 Yds; Joe Stoffel; 4 Rec 52 Yds; Griffin Crosa; 2-2 FG, 3-3 XP