Penguins Nationwide Gathering for Title Game

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – As time ticks off on the countdown to kickoff for the FCS National Championship game, fans across the Mahoning Valley — and the nation — are getting ready and making their plans for how – and where – to watch the big game.

Here and nationwide, watch parties are organized to give Penguins fans a chance to watch and celebrate. The Covelli Centre will screen Youngstown State University’s title game appearance on screens around the arena. In cities like Las Vegas and Tampa, alumni are gathering to cheer on their alma mater. And restaurants throughout the city, the game will take over just about every TV screen.

“Cassese’s MVR has always bled red and white. Whenever there’s anything Penguins on – they don’t have to be in the national championship – they’re on our TVs,” said manager Joe Cassese. “We’re just as excited as everyone else. We’re looking forward for what could be an average Saturday turning into a fantastic Saturday.”

The Smokey Hollow restaurant on the edge of YSU’s campus will open at 9 a.m. Saturday – three hours before kickoff – due entirely to the anticipated demand. Cassese said he expects several hundred people to show up.

Throughout the Penguins’ playoff run, Cassese noted that one item has remained consistently popular – the Tressel Tortellini – for a few reasons. It’s always a popular item, he says, but with Jim Tressel’s return as YSU president, people have started ordering it as a show of support in some cases.

“There’s nostalgia there. Period,” he says. “And No. 3, there’s no doubt on Saturday that there’s people who are getting their Tressel Tortellini for good luck. I can say this much: we will not run out of tortellini on Saturday.”

A few blocks away, O’Donold’s general manger Christian Bowden is expecting a similar turnout and will have the game on every TV in the bar. The Irish pub has hosted watch parties throughout the playoffs that “had a full bar and about 10 tables full.” He expects similar results Saturday.

“I’m not entirely sure what to expect, but from previous experience it’ll be pretty full in here,” he said. “We all feel the Youngstown State love. We’re all excited and we’re ready for it to be crazy in here Saturday.”

Across the state line in Sharon, Pa., Brewtus Brewing Co. will be showing the game with food and drink specials, as well as a raffle for four tickets to a YSU basketball doubleheader. The brewpub isn’t widely advertising, though, noted manager Gabby Rahn, sticking to a few posts on Facebook.

“It’s just a kind of thing where we turn it on and it’s a place to be. We’re looking to have some fun with whoever shows up. Hopefully it turns into a good time,” she said.

Penguin pride has been flowing through Brewtus for weeks, she added, as co-owner Jason Camerlengo is a YSU alum and the daughter of an employee is on the cheerleading squad.

“It’s something fun that we’ve all invested in. And there aren’t a ton of places around here putting the game on for people, so we figured we could have it on and do some specials,” Rahn said.

Outside the Mahoning Valley, nine alumni watch parties have been organized across the country in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Massillon, Pittsburgh, New York, Las Vegas, Tampa and Washington, D.C. Most of the bars and restaurants hosting screenings are home to a few YSU alumni events throughout the year and were open to hosting hordes of Penguin fans.

“We’ve got hundreds of people coming to those parties,” said YSU’s Director of Alumni Engagement Catherine Cala, who’s been working with the sites to coordinate RSVPs. “We’re thrilled that so many fans across the country are excited.”

The response from alumni wanting to serve as hosts for the watch parties was phenomenal, Cala said.

“Some people think that when alumni leave, they lose the feel for their alma mater. The exact opposite is true,” she said. “We see a great love for their former campus and we’re happy to help them get together and join to celebrate a championship season.”

At the send-off rally for the Penguins Wednesday morning, hundreds of fans showed up to shake hands with players and coaches as they boarded the buses to head to Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport. As they waited for the team to come out of the locker room, they discussed their plans. Some were going to their in-laws, others to Covelli Centre. Meanwhile, other groups were discussing where would be best to watch the game. A few people were looking further from home than others.

“Frisco, Texas. Absolutely,” said Harold Wilson, a season ticket holder. “We booked our flights before the tickets even went on sale. We knew we had to be there for these guys. … I love these guys. They filled in when they needed to. They stepped up and did what they needed to do.”

Even Tressel, the only coach at YSU to win a national title, was looking forward to watching the team in person. The university president will leave Thursday night and attend a few NCAA events on Friday. On game day, the former coach will find himself surrounded by Penguins at the official YSU tailgate before going to a suite for the game.

“I’m thinking back to the old days and how excited our students and community were when this was happening before,” he said. “People are coming together and they don’t care that the wind’s blowing or that it’s cold. They care about the pride of their team, the pride of their school and they’re excited.”

Pictured: YSU fans gathered outside Stambaugh Stadium for a send-off rally for the football team as they left for Frisco, Texas.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.