Despite Loss, YSU Fans Still Enjoy Covelli Watch Party

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – There was plenty of noise in the Covelli Centre when Youngstown State University kicked off in the FCS National Championship against James Madison University.

It was louder when the Penguins forced their foes to punt after their first three plays. And even louder still when YSU took the field for the first time.

But as the game wore on and James Madison scored more and more, and YSU moved the ball less and less, it got quieter and quieter. When the Dukes got a lucky interception off the foot of a Penguin’s receiver, you could almost feel the last shred of YSU fans’ hope scatter out of the building.

By the end of the game, as the Dukes dumped Gatorade on their head coach and lifted the trophy, you could hear the radio chatter from Covelli Centre’s security team as they cleaned up the arena. Near silence.

“I’m disappointed with the game, but I feel like they gave it their best effort. There were a few calls that went against them and didn’t help them out. It was a tough game for YSU,” said Cliff Hill as he walked to the parking lot after the title game. “But it felt like a family. Everyone felt united for YSU. It felt good. It felt warming. It was still a good day.”

Regardless of the result, a 28-14 loss in the Penguins seventh national championship game — for what would have been its fifth national title in school history — a common feeling wove through the crowd: The city is united.

“It’s uniting the community. It’s been a long time since we’ve won a championship, but I remember what it was like last time we won. It just felt really good,” said Youngstown resident Vicki Hicks.

With Hicks was her friend Carlotta Sparks, attending her first game of the year. It’s the first time her work schedule hasn’t overlapped with the Penguins games and the timing couldn’t have been better, she said.

“I wanted to be part of this. I want to cheer on YSU. I want them to win and know that I support them,” she said. “I work a lot, but I’m here. That’s what I’m excited for. There’s going to be lots of fun, lots of spirit and just lots of joy.”

Standing behind Hicks and Sparks in line, YSU student Olivia Huffman – who moved here from Akron – said that as soon as she heard about the Covelli Centre watch party, she knew that’s where she needed to be.

“Why not? It’s free,” she said with a laugh. “And it’s a great thing they’re doing for the community to get them together. It’s open to everybody and gets them in one place. I just really wanted to be here.”

Nearly 4,500 tickets to the Covelli Centre watch party were distributed before the close of business Friday, said the arena’s director of marketing and sales, Kelsey Klim, with  more set to be handed out after the doors opened at 10 a.m. The first fan, Tom Turney from the West Side, got in line at 7:30 Saturday morning.

“This is the party that’s everyone’s at. There are 5,000 people here partying. It’s the big game. There’s nowhere else to be,” he said.

By the time doors opened, the line stretched from the front door to Front Street, before curving around back around along the Covelli Centre’s parking lot.

Inside, fans grabbed pictures with Pete the Penguin, played cornhole and took advantage of the breakfast buffet and bloody Mary bar. Kids ran around on a section of turf used by the Mahoning Valley Thunder arena football team. Part of what drew Hicks and her children to the game were the activities apart from the YSU game.

“What else are they going to do? It gets them off the video games for the day. They’ll be enjoying a bit of history,” Hicks said.

By the time the final whistle was blown, only a hundred or so fans remained. Some of them walked out with their heads hung and their sights on next season. But for others, it was still a season to remember.

“I’m proud of this team. They played their way. This team won games and you could see their heart in it,” said Steven May of Youngstown, who swore not to be let down before the game. “I give Coach Pelini a lot of credit for that. They did good last year but this year is a championship game.”

Pictured: YSU fans at Covelli Centre stand in silence after a James Madison University touchdown.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.