Kuhn, Youngstown State focused on national championship game
The main topic for Shane Kuhn's family and friends during the holidays was Youngstown State's playoff run that led to a berth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision National Championship.
Kuhn, a junior tight end for Youngstown State and a Kiski Area grad, gladly recalled the Penguins' double-overtime win against Wofford in the quarterfinals and Kevin Rader's touchdown catch in the final seconds that secured an upset win at No. 2 Eastern Washington in the semis.
But the reality of playing for a national title didn't sink in until the first day of practice after the holiday break.
“We talked about it at home and that was great, but after being at practice, watching film and talking about going down to (the championship) helps you realize the situation,” said Kuhn, a football and wrestling standout in his Cavaliers days.
Youngstown State (12-3) can win its fifth national championship and first since 1997 when it plays No. 4 James Madison (13-1) Saturday at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. The game, which starts at noon, will be televised by ESPN2.
James Madison defeated top-ranked North Dakota State, the five-time defending national champions, in the semifinals. The Dukes scored more than 40 points nine times this season, twice in the playoffs. They put up 84 points against Rhode Island and 80 against Morehead State.
“I know they have a good offense, but defense is what I focus on,” Kuhn said. “They're solid all the way through. They have a good linebacker, good safety and a couple good defensive ends. (James Madison) will be a tough challenge, but we have faced tough teams all year, so I'm sure we'll be ready for it,”
Youngstown State is 2-0 against top five opponents in the playoffs. Aside from the Eastern Washington win, the Penguins beat third-ranked Jacksonville State. Though the Penguins have been underdogs throughout their postseason run, it's not something they think about.
“Coach (Bo) Pelini doesn't pay too much mind to rankings or anything like that, so we don't talk about it at all,” Kuhn said. “This team knew we had what it takes, but we just had to put it together, and I think we came together at the right time.”
Kuhn feels the Penguins succeeded in restoring excitement about the program in the city of Youngstown.
“The environment has been awesome around (Youngstown),” Kuhn said. “The students are into it. I think winning the national championship would be the icing on the cake. It would help out the community, recruiting, and everything. It's a good feeling knowing you're a part of it. Everyone on the team feels that way.”
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.