Penn State Edges Army 20-14 In Stressful Showdown
With pouring rain, bitter temperatures, and soggy conditions, Saturday’s matchup between Penn State and Army was anything but exhilarating. After jumping out to a 20-7 lead, the Nittany Lions stagnated, allowing the Black Knights to creep back into the contest. Penn State needed a Jason Cabinda sack on fourth down late in the game to secure the victory, the Lions’ fourth in a row. A win is a win no matter how ugly (hint: It was incredibly ugly), take a look at how it unfolded:
How it happened
Despite miserable conditions, John Donovan stuck to his offensive gameplan and allowed Christian Hackenberg to work the ball downfield through the air early. The first drive produced no results, as a false start pinned the Lions deep in their own territory, subsequently forcing a punt. Army barely had a chance to drive, as Garrett Sickels forced and recovered a fumble, setting up Nick Scott for his first career touchdown a few plays later. From 11 yards out, Scott sliced through the defense, eluding the safety before waltzing into the endzone. It was the fourth consecutive takeaway that the Lions converted into a touchdown.
Midway through the first quarter, Army stuck to its guns and stayed true to the ground game. It again provided no results, as Jason Cabinda forced the Black Knights to punt after screaming up the middle to strip-sack Ahmad Bradshaw. Freshman running back Johnathan Thomas took his first career reps, leading the Nittany Lions across midfield. The drive stalled, and was capped off by a Chris Gulla shank that travelled 12 yards.
After taking a 7-0 lead into the end of quarter break, the second 15-minute period began with the same offensive struggle that categorized the first quarter. With the rain pounding, Von Walker pounced on an Army fumble with 8:52 remaining in the half. It was his first fumble recovery as a Nittany Lion. But Penn State couldn’t do anything with the favorable field conditions, and instead punted once more to Army’s eight.
Again, almost on cue, Army fumbled away the possession — Penn State’s third recovery of the game. This time, linebacker Manny Bowen pounced on the ball, recovery his first career turnover. The takeaway resulted in a 37-yard field goal attempt from Joey Julius. Big Toe’s attempt split the uprights, and gave the Lions a 10-0 lead that they took into the half.
After a halftime that honored Army service members and welcomed home a trio of Penn State soccer and World Cup alums, Penn State ran the ball down Army’s throat on its first offensive possession. The drive ultimately stalled in the red zone, but another Joey Julius field goal extended the Lions’ lead to 13-0.
Up until seven minutes remained in the third quarter, Army had not attempted a pass. But it froze the defense when it did just that, connecting over the middle for a 37-yard gain down to Penn State’s 12. It was the first time the Black Knights had marched into the red zone all day. Unlike Penn State, Army was able to capitalize. A short QB keeper from three yards away found the end zone, and it was suddenly a one-possession game, 13-7.
But Penn State quickly answered the adversity is resounding fashion. A bomb downfield hauled in by Chris Godwin put the Lions in the shadow of the red zone. Hackenberg then found tight end (and birthday boy) Mike Gesicki down the sideline. The tight end trotted into the end zone unharmed, his first career touchdown reception. The extra point gave Penn State a 20-7 lead.
After a momentum shifting touchdown run by AJ Schurr early in the final quarter, Penn State took over nursing only a six point lead. The ensuing drive resulted in a three and out, and the Black Knights began to smell blood. Though the triple option isn’t the most exciting offensive system, one thing is certain: It bleeds clock. Army took advantage of this, charging down the field with time beginning to dwindle. In typical fashion, the defense stepped up. Down six near midfield, Jason Cabinda hit sacked Schurr on fourth down. The turnover on downs gave Penn State the ball with less than two minutes remaining, securing teh stressful victory.
Player of the Game
After a quiet game offensively for both teams, defense became the overriding theme on Saturday. Leading the defensive effort for Penn State was sophomore linebacker Jason Cabinda, who seemingly had a hand in every defensive stop. His statline reads beautifully: 14 total tackles, two sacks, two tackles for a loss, and one forced fumble. It’s hard to say that Cabinda is “filling in” for the injured Nyeem Wartman-White, as his stunning performances are becoming weekly occurrences. Tasked with the responsibility of serving as Penn State’s vocal leader, Cabinda’s beginning to lead by example with his remarkable play anchoring the middle.
For his commendable effort against Army, he deserves our Player of the Game distinction.
Penn State’s five straight home games comes to a close next week when it welcomes the Indiana Hoosiers for a Homecoming matchup. Penn State’s struggled with Indiana the past two years, almost losing in 2014, and losing in crushing fashion in 2013. The Hoosiers are 4-0, but play Ohio State later today.