It was only two years ago that Sam Ficken missed four field goals in a single game, errors that caused Penn State to lose to Virginia, 17-16.
And it was only in November that Ficken pushed an extra point wide in the Nittany Lions’ 2013 home finale against Nebraska, a kick that would have eschewed an overtime period that ultimately defeated the Blue and White.
But let’s forget about that.
On Saturday morning, the same Sam Ficken confidently drilled four field goals on four attempts (and two extra points) to carry Penn State to 26-24 victory.
With three seconds remaining, Ficken stood at UCF’s 19-yard line. It was a career-defining moment. Miss it, and he would forever be remebered as the choke artist. Make it, and he would be the hero.
The 6-foot-2 kicker split the uprights, and was immediately mobbed by his teammates. James Franklin picked him up in a bear hug.
In his post game interview, in front of an international television audience, Ficken could have easily — and understandably — mentioned how great this redemption may feel.
Instead, ever so humbly, he spoke to his teammates. “That was a team effort all the way,” he said.
Franklin couldn’t contain his excitement either. “I’m so happy for Ficken,” he said.
Ficken recently mentioned how — after his struggles on the field — he learned to mentally block out doubt.
“You can’t listen to the media, to Twitter, whatever. What matters is within the program, what matters is what the coaches think, what matters is what your teammates think,” he said. “And obviously, with what I’ve gone through, to see the support system around you, there’s no need to even think about what’s written in the papers, there’s just no point to it.”
That mindset certainly helped Saturday. On a day in which Penn State could not establish a run game or consistently find the end zone when inside the 20, it was Ficken who was called upon.
None of his field goals of 22, 33, 24, and 36 yards were particularly difficult, but they all came at crucial junctures in a tense game. On them all, he split the uprights.
“This offseason I’ve put a ton of work into getting stronger mentally, and preparing myself for the season,” said Ficken at media day.
Through week one, his work has paid off.