Penn State Shocks No. 18 Michigan In Miraculous Four-Overtime Comeback Victory
It took four quarters and four overtimes to settle this one, but the Penn State Nittany Lions came out victorious by a score of 43-40 in one of the more miraculous comeback wins in team history. In a rivalry game against Michigan on primetime television, Christian Hackenberg led a picture perfect game-tying touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter to force a cartoonish bunch of overtimes that eventually ended with a Bill Belton game-winning touchdown run.
Penn State looked to be in complete control of the game early on. Hackenberg threw a first quarter interception but Jordan Lucas was able to pick off Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner soon after to give the Nittany Lions great field position. Hackenberg found Brandon Felder, a player who has emerged as a trusty receiving option in recent weeks, for a 12-yard touchdown.
Michigan quickly countered on the next drive, scoring on a 59-yard touchdown pass from Gardner to Devin Funchess on blown coverage by Ryan Keiser that left Funchess wide open deep downfield.
Wolverines kicker Brendan Gibbons hit a 47-yard field goal late in the first quarter to make it 10-7, but Penn State went on a run of its own to take a big lead into the locker room at halftime.
Another Gardner interception gave Penn State the ball on the 20-yard line early in the second quarter. It took just one play for Hackenberg to hit Jesse James in the end zone for a score that made it 14-10 Penn State.
With ten minutes to go in the first half, the Nittany Lions took over on offense again, making their way downfield before Hackenberg eventually hit Felder for a 24-yard touchdown, their second connection of the game that went for a score. Penn State led 21-10 and had a chance to extend that lead if it went for a fourth down late in the second quarter, but O’Brien opted to punt. That was the score that the team took into the locker room.
When the third quarter began, it looked like two different teams were playing football. Zach Zwinak fumbled on the first play of the half and Michigan’s Frank Clark recovered the ball and ran it in for a score that cut the lead to 21-17.
Michigan scored on a 23-yard field goal by Gibbons just two possessions later to pull within one point. A Sam Ficken 45-yard field goal late in the third quarter made it 24-20 as the offense showed signs of life for the first time in the second half.
But Michigan took control of the game after that, scoring another touchdown on a nine-play, 73-yard drive that ended in a Gardner touchdown pass to Jeremy Gallon from 16 yards out. Gardner threw his second touchdown to Funchess soon after from 37-yards out as he found room behind a Penn State defender and the score was suddenly 34-24 in favor of Michigan.
Ficken hit a field goal from 43 yards with 6:35 remaining in the game to make it a one score game. Michigan drove downfield, running as much clock as possible along the way. Penn State had Michigan at a 3rd-and-12 on its own 44-yard line, but an Adrian Amos pass interference penalty kept the drive alive.
The Wolverines made it to the Penn State 27-yard line, but an illegal procedure penalty pushed them back five yards before a Mike Hull backfield tackle moved them back three more. From the 35-yard line, Brady Hoke decided to let his team punt for a touchback with 50 seconds remaining in the game.
Hackenberg hit Allen Robinson on the first play of the drive for a 14-yard gain as Robinson dragged his toes inbounds on the left sideline. Hackenberg found an open Felder for 29 yards on the next play to get to the Michigan 37-yard line. And then came the play of the game.
On 2nd-and-10, Hackenberg launched a bomb down the left sideline intended for Robinson who had two defenders on him. The perfectly thrown ball was caught by a diving Robinson who went down on the 1-yard line with 29 seconds left in the game. In just 21 seconds Hackenberg had moved the team 79 yards downfield.
Hackenberg kept the ball for himself the next play, running it up the middle for a rushing touchdown, the first scored against Michigan this season. A Ficken extra point tied the game and we were headed to overtime after Michigan missed a 52-yard field goal attempt short.
The first overtime opened up with a missed 40-yard field goal by Ficken. Michigan barely advanced the ball on its first drive of overtime, but a 40-yard field goal from Gibbons was blocked as Kyle Baublitz broke through the line and swatted the ball down to force a second overtime.
Michigan started the second overtime on offense, driving to the Penn State 8-yard line before being stopped and kicking a short field goal to go ahead 37-34. Penn State couldn’t pick up a first down on the ensuing drive, but Ficken nailed a field goal from 36 yards to tie it up again and force a third overtime.
Penn State ran a reverse with Robinson taking the handoff on the first play of the third overtime. Robinson fumbled the ball as he tried to corral the handoff and Michigan recovered. A field goal would have ended the game but Gibbons missed wide left on a 33-yard attempt and miraculously the game went on.
Gibbons didn’t miss on his next field goal attempt, hitting from 40 yards out to make it 40-37 in favor of Michigan in the fourth overtime of the game. The next Penn State drive will go down in the history books.
Bill Belton rushed for five yards, one yard, and three yards to bring up a 4th-and-inches from the Michigan 19-yard line. O’Brien sent the offense out on the field. If they didn’t get the yard, it was game over.
“It was the fourth overtime and I felt like it was time for somebody to win the game,” O’Brien said. “We could keep trading field goals back and forth, but I think if Brady was in that situation he’d go for it too.”
“When I was younger, everything didn’t go my way, but my parents continued to tell me that I can do everything and to have confidence in myself,” Belton said. “I knew I was going to get the yard. I knew I’d hear about it for the rest of the time I’m here if I didn’t get the yard.”
And that’s exactly what he did. Belton bounced left, found a hole, and gained three yards to keep Penn State’s hopes of a comeback victory alive. After a Hackenberg pass to Robinson in the end zone was flagged for defensive pass interference, Penn State had the ball on the 2-yard line with four chances to score and get the win. They only needed one.
Belton took the handoff yet again, something he did quite a lot in the four overtimes, saw open field to the left, took off running, crossed the goal line, and propelled Penn State to an amazing 43-40 victory over the Michigan Wolverines on homecoming weekend.
“It’s a big win for us. It means a lot,” O’Brien said. “We beat a really good Michigan team 5-0. You’re coming off a bad loss. It says a lot about these kids and this coaching staff. The locker room is a great scene right now because these kids really believe in each other. They came out and they practiced hard this week and that’s what they’ll do next week.”
Christian Hackenberg was 23-for-44 passing in the game with 305 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. It isn’t the prettiest stat line you’ll ever see, but he played a great game and made big plays when it mattered most.
The run game was almost non-existent in the game. Penn State gained 85 rushing yards on 44 attempts. Bill Belton had one of the biggest games of his career, gaining 85 yards on 27 rushes with the game-winning touchdown.
Brandon Felder was the best receiver for Penn State in the game. Felder caught six balls for 97 yards and two touchdowns. Jesse James caught six of of his own for 67 yards and a score. Allen Robinson had a slow start but ended up with five catches for 84 yards including the biggest play of the game.
Devin Gardner did some damage on the ground, rushing for 121 yards on 24 carries. He added 240 yards passing with three touchdowns, but the Penn State defense slowed him when it needed to and ultimately came out on top because of it.
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About the Author
They’re in our city.
Sam Ficken’s winding football journey has taken him from Indiana to New York with several stops in between. Now, as a Jet, he’s finally settled down in a consistent role.
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