FRISCO, Texas (AP) - Youngstown State quarterback Hunter Wells had heard plenty of stories from family and friends about the glory days of Penguins football, and the four national championships won in the 1990s with Jim Tressel as their coach.
But Wells, who grew up just more than an hour from the Ohio campus, wasn’t aware of the 1999 runner-up finish in their last title game appearance until he saw a banner at their practice facility.
“No one cares if you almost win,” Wells said. “You’ve got to win.”
The Penguins (12-3) finally get their chance at another title Saturday when they play James Madison (13-1) in the FCS championship game.
For the first time in six years, North Dakota State didn’t make it from Fargo to Frisco to play for the title. James Madison won its semifinal game 27-17 over the five-time defending champion Bison in the Fargodome.
“It kind of felt like we had to go dethrone the champ,” junior quarterback Bryan Schor said. “That’s what we needed to do. We said over the summer and over spring, that if we’re going to win a national championship, it’s going to go through Fargo, North Dakota.”
But the Dukes, from the Colonial Athletic Association, know they have another game to play. They won the 2004 national title the only other time they made it this far.
“I just think that whole experience right there was probably as good of preparation as you can have for this game right here,” first-year JMU coach Mike Houston said.
Youngstown State has a six-game winning streak since a 24-3 loss at North Dakota State on Nov. 5. They advanced with a 40-38 semifinal victory at Eastern Washington in subzero temperatures. Tight end Kevin Rader drew national attention when he pinned the ball against the back of the defender for a 5-yard TD catch with 1 second left.
“We have a lot of character,” coach Bo Pelini said. “I said after that (North Dakota State) game, and I believed it, and it was. There was a lot more out there for our team.”
Some other things to watch at the professional soccer stadium, where the game has been played since 2010:
James Madison running back Khalid Abdulla, who has 1,708 yards rushing and an FCS-best 20 rushing touchdowns, describes himself as “patient, but physical.” He goes against a Youngstown State defense that has allowed only 10 rushing TDs in 15 games.
LOTS OF SACKS
Youngstown State has set a school record with 47 sacks, with 16 different players getting to the quarterbacks. End Derek Rivers leads the team with 14 sacks, and Avery Moss - the end on the other side - has 10. Rivers has 47 career sacks.
JOURNEY FOR SCHOR
Schor had committed to play at Miami (Ohio) while in high school, but his scholarship offer wasn’t honored after a coaching change made while he didn’t play a semester. After a time working with his high school - and a quarterback who broke many of his records before pursuing hockey - Schor is playing for a title with an FCS-leading 73.7 percent completion percentage. He has 27 TD passes with six interceptions.
Both teams will be missing suspended players. James Madison has seven players out, including No. 2 receiver Terrence Alls and top tackler Brandon Hereford. None of them played in the semifinal win against North Dakota State. Youngstown State has at least four players out, including running back Martin Ruiz and two safeties. Neither program has specifically addressed the suspensions.
Pelini, who was born in Youngstown, is in his second season as the Penguins’ coach. Tressel, who also won the 2002 national championship with Ohio State, is currently president of Youngstown State.
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