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Penn State Football Grateful For ‘Unbelievable’ Support From Fans In Home Opener

No. 11 Penn State football’s convincing win over Ball State Saturday afternoon included the largest crowd Beaver Stadium had seen for a home opener since 2008.

105,323 fans packed into the bleachers to see their Nittany Lions play, and for good reason. No one, other than some friends and family of players, had watched this team play a real game in person at Beaver Stadium since Rutgers on November 30, 2019.

For James Franklin and his group, the home crowd had a massive impact in a number of ways even before the game.

“In some ways, it was emotional, to be honest with you,” Franklin said. “Thursday night, you start seeing the RVs coming in to town…Friday you felt the electricity in town. Saturday, driving the blue busses from the hotel over to the stadium. The welcome we got was unbelievable.”

The build up and community excitement that occurs ahead of a game became synonymous with Penn State football for so many years. In 2020, going from a rocking crowd and a massive tailgate scene to absolutely nothing was a brutal loss for so many Nittany Lions who had gotten used to it over the years.

As Penn State made its highly anticipated entrance to the field Saturday, Sean Clifford took a moment with his younger brother, wide receiver Liam Clifford, to soak it all in. He noted that he couldn’t be happier with his brother’s first experience in Beaver Stadium as a player.

“Just to have everybody back in Beaver Stadium, obviously you can’t beat it,” Clifford said. “To see everybody back, enjoying themselves, looking up in the crowd and seeing everybody’s faces. That’s what Penn State football’s about.”

Clifford added that while the Nittany Lions had a season last year, albeit abbreviated, it never truly felt like “Penn State football.” Saturday’s convincing win, which also happened to be Penn State’s 300th in Beaver Stadium, was quintessential Happy Valley.

“It’s one of those things where, last year wasn’t Penn State football in so many ways,” Clifford said. “The way that we played wasn’t great, but at the same time, we were in here by ourselves. To be here with everyone again, it raises the play of the game for us, and at the same time I think we feed off of that energy.

“It’s home. It was great to be back here with everybody,” Clifford said.

Considering Penn State won by 31 points, there were plenty of moments where the massive crowd had chances to get loud. Noah Cain and Clifford’s first-half scores, Jahan Dotson’s juke-filled scamper to the end zone, and Jesse Luketa’s one-handed pick-six certainly stand out as some of the top crowd-pleasers for the day.

The last of that list, however, may’ve been the most exciting of the afternoon. Luketa was lined up at defensive end when he managed to pluck the ball out of the air, and helped the Nittany Lions stretch their lead out to a massive margin to open the second half.

In his first score as a Nittany Lion, Luketa made sure to soak every second of it in.

“It’s been two years since we’ve been able to pack the stadium,” Luketa said. “It was a great feeling. It was humbling to know we have all that support. We do it for them.”

While he did have to fulfill a couple postgame media obligations after his impressive performance at defensive end and linebacker, Luketa did enjoy the last few lines of the Penn State Alma Mater with his teammates.

As for what’s going through his head in moments like that? It’s hard to put into words.

“I don’t know. A lot [is going through my mind],” Luketa said. “That we’re at home. I’m with my family. Whenever we have the opportunity to have our fans pack the stadium and sing the Alma Mater, we’re together. There’s no better feeling than that.”

While Saturday’s victory was electric for several reasons, the Nittany Lions still have three consecutive home games ahead of them. It all continues next week when No. 25 Auburn rolls into town for the White Out, along with ESPN’s College GameDay.

Franklin made it clear just how much the Nittany Lions will need that home-field advantage against the Tigers Saturday night. As always, the head coach will enjoy the victory tonight, but shift his focus to the week three opponent Sunday morning.

“[The crowd] had an impact on the game today. We’re gonna need that moving forward,” Franklin said. “We got obviously a huge game next week. We’re gonna need this place rocking… All the season ticket holders, if you’re not using your tickets — and we’ve got 70,000 of them. Make sure that someone is sitting in your seats.”

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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