YOUNGSTOWN - The last time the Youngstown State University football team defeated the University of Northern Iowa, running back Jamaine Cook and quarterback Kurt Hess were 9 years old.
But just because the two were playing Pop Warner football the last time the Penguins were able to beat the Panthers back in 2000, it doesn't mean they don't know that UNI has had a hold over the Penguins for a very long time.
"We haven't beat them in 11 or 12 years," Cook said. "It's just something that we want to show that we can do, that we can beat this team."
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Youngstown State’s Jamaine Cook (35)?finds running room as he gets a block from teammate Will Shaw (8) on Albany’s Jon Morgan (11) during first-quarter action. YSU hosts UNI this Saturday.
Though the Penguins have lost the last 11 contests against the Panthers, it doesn't mean they haven't come close - and had some memorable finishes.
The last two seasons, the Penguins have had the lead in the fourth quarter, but couldn't hold on in the end. Both years, around the 2 minute mark, the Panthers were able to score go-ahead, game-winning touchdowns.
In 2008, a blocked extra point was the difference as YSU lost, 21-20. The year before that was another 1-point loss, 14-13 as the Penguins lost a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter.
"They're crazy (finishes)," Hess said. "And being here for four years you've seen a lot of things. It's just the way the ball rolls sometimes and it's just kind of the nature of the sport we are playing. In between the lines, anything can happen. You can lose in the last 20 seconds or you can win. We're hoping if we prepare correctly this week, and we really have worked hard in the offseason, and we feel deserving to be out there with them and to compete with them, then maybe the ball will roll our way this time."
The last two close losses to UNI have been under coach Eric Wolford's watch. And while the past has happened, Wolford is making sure his squad is focusing on the here and now.
"Our approach is, every year is a different year. Every game is a different game," Wolford said. "The last two times out we fell short late. Our intention is to have a great week at practice, make sure we are mentally prepared."
Along with the fact that UNI has been the arch nemesis of the Penguins over the last decade, Saturday's game marks the beginning of conference play. While some teams might want to wait a few games in to take on the reigning conference champion, the Penguins are embracing it. They are ready for the challenge.
"It's our first conference game, so you know how important those games are," Cook said. "We've seen how important conference games are. For us, to get to the Missouri Valley Conference championship that we want, we have to go through Northern Iowa. And, so we really need this win. We respect them, but we play to win and we're confident we can go out and execute against anyone we play."
YSU will try and end the streak - and get its first conference win - at 7 p.m. Saturday night at Stambaugh Stadium.