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Penn State Drops 42-39 Heartbreaker To Pitt At Heinz Field

Penn State and Pitt’s rivalry reboot at Heinz Field provided plenty of fireworks, but the Nittany Lions couldn’t catch up to the Panthers in a 42-39 instant classic.

How It Happened

The Lions held nothing back, allowing McSorley to get comfortable throwing early and often. Two quick strikes to DaeSean Hamilton got the Lions into Pitt territory within minutes, but early nerves from young guard Ryan Bates stalled the drive. Hamilton notched three early catches on Penn State’s initial possession. The Lions were forced to punt, and true freshman punter Blake Gillikin continued his impressive start with another dime of a punt — this one pinning Pitt on the one yard line. Pitt showed no signs of nerves during a 10 play, 99 yard drive that resulted in a one yard score from fullback George Aston. The Lions struggled to contain running back James Conner, who strung together gains of 23 and 24.

The Lions failed to generate anything on the ensuing drive, as Brendan Mahon was beat badly in pass protection. McSorley fumbled after being drilled, and Pitt quickly tacked on another score through the air to take a 14-0 lead.

Franklin’s playcalling was again brought into question early on, as the Lions opted to rely on short passes instead of feeding Barkley the ball. Barkley only carried the ball twice through 11 minutes of first quarter action — a surprising notion given his potential with the ball in his hands.

After a key three down stop, John Reid sparked some life into the listless Lions with a 59 yard punt return. Pass interference put the ball on the three, and it was all Saquon Barkley from there.

Penn State lost a key contributor in defensive tackle Kevin Givens, who was leveled accidentally by Manny Bowen near the goal line. Pitt wasted no time in crossing the goal line, with Peterman hitting Orndoff in the back of the endzone to jump ahead 21-7. Early through the first half, it seems as though Kent State’s ability to move the ball was no fluke. The Nittany Lion defense simply couldn’t contain Pitt’s playmakers, and it showed in an obvious way. Pandora’s box continued to open after another McSorley fumble. Jordan Whitehead took a sweep to the three, and Pitt’s George Aston finished the job to take a 28-7 lead with 11 minutes left in the second quarter.

Times were looking bleak for the Lions until Malik Golden picked off Peterman and brought it down to the 35. But, just as the Lions have done all day, the drive stalled immediately and resulted in a three and out. The teams traded blows, until a McSorley dime to Gesicki set the Lions up on the goal line, resulting in Barkley’s second score of the afternoon to make cut the lead to 14.

A quick three and out by Pitt gave the Lions a golden opportunity that was too good to pass up. Three costly Panther penalties moved the chains, and Barkley finished the job off a beautiful find from McSorley through the air. His third touchdown of the day got Penn State back into the thick of things, trailing 28-21. But Pitt’s answer was swift, behind the combo of James Conner and Darrin Hall en route to another rushing touchdown to make it 35-21.

Later in the quarter, Chris Godwin turns a near interception into a circus-like first down. The drive’s momentum stalled after Barkley lost the ball in Pitt territory. The Lions received a gift late in the third, as Pitt kicker Chris Blewitt missed a 50-yard field goal wide right.

Early in the fourth quarter, Penn State got the spark it needed. After a one-handed miracle catch by Thompkins, Barkley marched into the endzone for his fourth touchdown of the day. The Lions followed that up with the biggest play of the day after forcing a fumble deep in Pitt territory. A momentum-killing sack on third down forced the Lions to kick, which resulted in three points.

The Lions opted to give the returner a chance, and Quadree Henderson made the Lions pay for kicking to him. James Conner took a 12 yard shovel pass into the endzone to extend Pitt’s lead to 42-31, and the Lions responded with a three and out.

But Saquon Barkley would not be stopped. Led by McSorley’s arm, the offense marched down to the goal line, where Barkley again cashed in for his fifth touchdown of the game, matching a feat only Ki-Jana Carter did in 1994.

But Penn State couldn’t hang on. A key drop by DaeSean Hamilton that would’ve given Penn State the lead led to a heartbreaking interception in the back of the end zone on a heave from McSorley, giving Pitt the 42-39 victory.

Player Of The Game

Saquon Barkley | RB | Sophomore 

Five touchdowns, 85 yards. An elite performance by one of the nation’s top running backs — despite the loss — earns Barkley player of the game honors. His drive kept the Lions in the game, and there’s no doubt he could’ve benefited from more carries.

What’s Next?

The Lions play Temple at Beaver Stadium on Sept. 17.

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About the Author

David Abruzzese

David is a senior from Rochester, NY, nestled right in beautiful Western New York. He is majoring in Broadcast Journalism, and as an avid sports fan, he passionately supports the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres. He is the first Penn Stater from his family, and couldn’t be prouder to represent Penn State University. In his free time, he likes to alpine ski, and play golf. You can follow him on Twitter @abruz11, and can contact him via email at [email protected].

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