Saturday, December 27, 2014

Penn State: 2014 Pinstripe Bowl Champions



NEW YORK - It had been a long time, more than three months to be exact, since Christian Hackenberg looked like the confident quarterback who had excited Penn State fans during his 2013 freshman year, who was on everyone's top-10-in-the-nation list at the start of the season.

On Saturday at Yankee Stadium, Hackenberg showed a captivated sellout Pinstripe Bowl crowd of 49,012 that he could still be that guy, leading the Nittany Lions back from a two-touchdown deficit against Boston College and carrying the game into overtime.

Hackenberg threw four touchdown passes, including a 10-yarder to tight end Kyle Carter in overtime that, combined with Sam Ficken's extra point and a big miss by Boston College, gave the Lions a dramatic, 31-30 victory over the Eagles. It was a successful return to bowl competition in Penn State's first such game since the 2012 NCAA sanctions.

The Nittany Lions finished with a 7-6 record in James Franklin's first season as head coach, and their first bowl win since the 2010 Capital One Bowl.

It was a fitting end to the season for Hackenberg, who completed 34 of 50 passes for 371 yards, his first 300-yard passing game since Week 3 at Rutgers. He had endured his share of struggles - and criticism - behind an inexperienced offensive line.

"It's not about me," Hackenberg said of the criticism. "For me, every day I came in and tried to work as hard as I could and become a better player . . . to be the best teammate I could be and push these guys to take their game to the next level.

"That's a big role for a quarterback, especially at Penn State. You need to be able to elevate everyone else's play when need be, and we were able to do that today."

Franklin tried all season to deflect the criticism directed at Hackenberg, telling anyone who would listen Hackenberg "wasn't really the issue" because of the offensive line's problems.

"I love Christian Hackenberg," Franklin said. "I wouldn't trade him for anybody. I think he's got a really bright future at Penn State moving forward. I will fight and defend him till the end."

Ficken, who had been given Derek Jeter's locker in the Yankees' clubhouse, where the Nittany Lions dressed for the game, kicked a 44-yard field goal with 20 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter for a 24-24 tie and to force an extra period.

Boston College (7-6) had the first possession and scored on Tyler Murphy's 21-yard touchdown pass to David Dudeck. But Mike Knoll hooked the extra point attempt wide right, the eighth point-after try that the Eagles missed this season, with Knoll missing two.

"We've had a lot of difficulties through the year on extra points and field goals," B.C. coach Steve Addazio said. "We started with those issues, and we ended with those issues. It's my job to get it fixed."

Penn State converted a pair of third-down conversions on its overtime possession, the first a 17-yard pass to Jesse James where the 6-foot-7, 270-pound tight end bowled over a defender to get the first down. Later, on third and 7, Hackenberg found the 6-3, 250-pound Carter matched up against a smaller defender and threw him a perfect pass in the end zone.

Ficken drilled the extra point, then ran away in celebration from his gleeful teammates lest he get trampled by some of the bigger Lions.

Hackenberg's other touchdown passes were 72 yards to freshman Chris Godwin, 7 yards to Eugene Lewis, and 16 yards to DaeSean Hamilton. Ultimately the game ended, in a baseball stadium, on a walk-off extra point.

"I think it's kind of cool," Hackenberg said. "That was special. I feel really excited for our seniors and how the team prepared. I think it's going to help us going into the offseason."


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