Penn State Tops Boston College in Overtime, Wins Pinstripe Bowl 31-30

What a game, and what a way to end Penn State’s roller coaster 2014 season.

The Nittany Lions (7-6) furiously erased a 14-point second half deficit and defeated Boston College (7-6) 31-30 for its first bowl victory since 2009. Sam Ficken hit a 44-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter to force overtime, and Christian Hackenberg found Kyle Carter in the corner of the end zone from 10 yards away that led to Ficken’s game-winning extra point after the Eagles missed an extra point on the previous possession.

“We have a way of starting the season in dramatic fashion, and ending the season in dramatic fashion,” said James Franklin following the game.

How it happened:

Franklin mentioned during his pre-bowl press conference on Friday that the offensive line was the most improved unit during the extra bowl game practices.

The Nittany Lion’s front five held up admirably, giving Christian Hackenberg the time and space to pass for 371 yards on 34-50 passing and four touchdowns.

72 of those yards came with 5:22 remaining in the first quarter. Hackenberg flung a bomb down the right sideline to freshman Chris Godwin. It was one of those passes Penn State couldn’t connect on for much of the year. But Godwin hauled in the lob, eluded a diving defender, then sprinted towards the end zone. Ficken’s extra point gave Penn State the first advantage, 7-0.

But a mere three plays later, Boston College’s Jon Hilliman broke through a gap in Penn State’s defensive line, and, 49-yards later he was in the end zone, seemingly untouched. He scored a mere 43 seconds after Godwin’s touchdown, and Mike Knoll’s kick leveled the score at seven.

The second quarter didn’t start out much better. Miles Dieffenbach, who battled a torn ACL and rehab this season, was carted off the field. He didn’t return. On the first play of the quarter, Hackenberg fumbled a yard from the red zone and Boston College recovered.

“That’s the one position we can’t afford to lose a guy, on the offensive line,” said Franklin of Dieffenbach’s early departure. “That position got as much criticism as any.”

The Eagles couldn’t do anything with the turnover, as dual-threat quarterback Tyler Murphy struggled in the first half, consistently failing to hit open receivers. As the two teams went into the locker room at the half, Penn State had out-gained Boston College 168-19 yards in the air, but the Eagles had a 145-26 advantage on the ground.

Murphy finished with 97 passing yards, 105 rushing yards, and three total touchdowns.

But as well as Penn State’s defense thwarted Boston College’s passing attack in the first half, the Eagles converted a fourth and three deep in Penn State’s territory through the air on the first drive of the second half. Moments later, a 19-yard fade into the end zone to Shakim Philips gave the official visitor’s its first lead, 14-7. It was an 11 play, 60-yard march down the field.

The next drive held promise for the Nittany Lions. A series of curls to the sideline had Penn State at Boston College’s 29. But on third down, a poor snap from Angelo Mangiro led to a fumble, and the Eagles quickly pounced on the ball, the second turnover of the game that involved Hackenberg.

“Early on,” said Franklin of the Eagles, “they had us thinking, and that made us not play as quickly as we would have liked to.”

And four plays later, Boston College was once again in the end zone. Murphy escaped several defenders, juked Jordan Lucas, and was brought down after passing the pylon, a 40-yard scamper. The deflating play extended the Eagles’ lead to 21-7.

But Penn State responded with a score of its own, the third touchdown in as many drives, an absolute offensive outburst given the games the Nittany Lions have played in this season. On third and two, with the clock under five seconds in the third quarter, Hackenberg hurried to the line and quickly snapped the ball. He then fired a bullet to Geno Lewis, who out-muscled his defender to the ball. It was Lewis’ first touchdown since the opener in Dublin, and pulled Penn State within a score, 21-14 as the third quarter expired.

“Geno’s got great ball skills,” said Franklin. “I’m excited because there’s a lot of room for growth in his game.”

The next time Penn State had the ball, it elected to punt on fourth and six from the 37, choosing to lean on a defense that had supported them all season, though gave up numerous bigs plays Saturday evening. It paid off: a three and out returned the Nittany Lions the ball at its 45.

On the third play of the drive, Hackenberg again found Lewis. The completion gave the sophomore a new Penn State record for passing yards in a bowl game. He also set the Penn State record for most passing completions in a bowl game with 34.

Akeel Lynch then broke through for 35 yards on the next play, before being tackled at the goal line. It looked like he had scored, but the official review disagreed. It proved to be much ado about nothing, however: Hackenberg threaded the needle to DaeSean Hamilton for an electrifying touchdown. Ficken’s field goal completed the comeback and tied the game at 21.

The Eagles responded with a march down to the one-yard line, but settled with a field goal. Eerily similar to the season opener, Penn State gained possession with just over two minutes to play, this time down three.

Systematically, over 8 plays and 49 yards, Hackenberg found receiver after receiver, including a 25-yard pass in stride to Godwin. A six-yard scramble set up a 44-yard field goal attempt. Ficken drilled the kick, leaving little doubt and tying the game at 24. Boston College took a knee on its drive, after receiving the ball with less than 20 seconds remaining, and regulation ended in a tie.

“I love Sam Ficken,” said Franklin, who professed his admiration for many of his players following the victory. “He’s been one of our best sources of offense all season.”

The Nittany Lions won the toss, and forced Boston College to take the offensive first. On third and six, Murphy found a slashing receiver, who slipped a tackle and scored. But a missed extra point gave Penn State a glimmer of hope to win on its next possession.

That was all Penn State needed.On third and 15 on that next possession — following a false start and two incompletions — Jesse James received the ball 8 yards short of the first down. He then bulldozed his defender, and fell forward to give the Lions a first down from the 15. And from the 10, Hackenberg then found Kyle Carter in the corner of the end zone on a fade. Ficken, ever reliable, hit the game-winning extra point.

“The future is very, very bright here,” said Franklin.

Player of the game:

This one’s easy. Hackenberg tossed four touchdowns and 371 yards (34-50), his best game number-wise since the season opener in Dublin.

Hackenberg made all the passes Saturday: the touchdown bomb to Godwin, the game-winning fade to Carter, and plenty of curls and slants in between.

“I’m happy for him,” said Franklin, noting that Hackenberg has taken a lot of blame this season, much of which wasn’t his fault. “It’s tough, with social media you can’t protect your players that way you used to.”

Quote of the game:

During the post-game trophy presentation, Franklin grabbed the microphone and yelled out to the the Penn State contingency that remained in the stands: “You want to talk about culture? Look around! This is culture.”

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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