Penn State; down seven, 50 seconds left, 80 yards.
Hackenberg – Robinson, 14 yards.
Hackenberg – Felder, 29 yards.
Michigan 37-yard line.
Hackenberg – Robinson, 36 yards.
Michigan one-yard line, first down.
Hackenberg sneak, 34-all.
Gardner – Gallon, 25 yards.
Gibbons, 52-yards for the win.
Penn State – Michigan.
How good was the last minute of Penn State/Michigan on Saturday night? Well you can start with that because it was only the beginning of the epic overtime chapter in this one. It had it all; huge momentum swings, outstanding individual performances, late drama and more.
The upset-minded Nittany Lions raced out to a 21-10 lead at half thanks to a couple Michigan turnovers and looked to be in control of yet another win over their rivals from the Big House. Then the third quarter started and Devin Gardner and Co. decided that they weren’t going to go quietly into the picturesque Happy Valley evening.
Zach Zwinak fumbled on the first play of the third and watched as Frank Clark returned it 24 yards to the house to jumpstart the Wolverines’ comeback. With Penn State now leading by just four at 21-17, a Brendan Gibbons field goal pulled the visitors even closer before Sam Ficken answered with a field goal of his own to setup the scoring at 24-20 with the ball back in the hands of Gardner.
With Penn State’s defense gaining back some of the momentum they lost to start the quarter, it was time for Gardner and the Michigan offense to respond with a drive. He did that and then some, as the the Wolverines marched 73 yards on nine plays, ending with Gardner’s touchdown pass to Jeremy Gallon from 16-yards out to give Michigan their first lead of the game at 27-24.
Trailing for the first time, the Nittany Lions offense responded with a nice drive of their own, but saw Sam Ficken miss a 47-yard kick that would have tied the game back up at 27-all. Instead, the Wolverines got the ball back in prime field position and took advantage almost immediately.
Following a big third-down conversion near midfield, Gardner dropped back on first down and hit Devin Funchess for a 37-yard score to put the Wolverines up 34-24 following the Gibbons extra point with 10:28 remaining.
Things looked bleak for the Nittany Lions as the offense had sputtered in the second half while leaving points on the board. To make matters worse, it appeared at though Gardner and the Michigan offense had finally heated up and was moving the ball very well in the second half.
But momentum started to swing back toward the Nittany Lions on the ensuing drive.
Facing fourth-and-one from their 47 and the game on the line, Bill Belton surged ahead for a first down and the Penn State drive ended seven plays later with a Ficken field goal from 43 yards to make it a one possession game once again with 6:35 left.
With the offense clawing their way back within seven, it was time for the Penn State defense to pull together and force the Michigan offense off the field without points. While the how and the what didn’t look pretty – as Michigan ran 5:45 off the clock- the drive resulted in a punt from the Penn State 37-yard line as Michigan coach Brady Hoke decided against another long field goal try.
Armed with the ball, a freshman quarterback with all the confidence in the world and 107,000 fans behind him, the Nittany Lions went to work.
Twenty-three seconds later, and 79 yards down the field, Hackenberg rammed over the goal line and Beaver Stadium erupted. Ficken’s PAT capped an improbable drive that seemed almost only as if it could have been written.
Those fans all had to hold their breath, but cheer at the same time as Gibbons lined up a 52-yard field goal with seven seconds left. His kick was just short, sending the instant classic into overtime.
In OT the Nittany Lions received the ball first, but stalled and forced yet another Ficken field goal attempt. His 40-yard kick sailed wide no good, setting up the Wolverines with a chance to win on any scoring play.
Three Michigan plays on the ensuing drive from the Penn State 25 combined for two yards, and setup Gibbons with a chance to be the hero. But his 40-yarder was blocked before it had a chance.
Michigan started the scoring in the second overtime with a 25-yard field goal, giving Penn State a chance to win with a touchdown. But after six yards from Bill Belton on first and second down, Hackenberg’s third down pass fell incomplete to Jesse James to force another field goal attempt. From 36 yards Ficken was true, sending the game to a third OT.
Allen Robinson, starring in the PSU’s version of “the catch” to force OT, fumbled on the first play during an end-around that the Wolverines recovered. It was simply a case of a play call designed just to get the ball to the playmaker in space, but the exchange wasn’t clean and setup the visitors with yet another chance to send the crowd home disappointed.
After finally gaining some yards for their kicker, Gibbons lined up a 33-yard attempt from the left hash. The kick went up and no good, wide left. It wasn’t meant to be this time, but credit the senior for responding just three plays later with a 40-yarder to give Michigan the lead at 40-37 to start the first half of the fourth OT.
On the ensuing Penn State drive, the Nittany Lions stared down yet another fourth-and-one. From the Michigan 16 coach O’Brien could have sent out his kicker to send this thing to a fifth OT, but chose to lean on his offense and try and win the game. Belton surged for three yards and a first down. Facing third-and-8 from the Michigan 11, Hackenberg looked for Robinson, who was interfered with in the end zone, giving the Nittany Lions a first down from the one-yard line.
One play later Belton bounced outside and into the end zone, sending the Nittany Lions to the 43-40 victory and throwing the rabid crowd into a frenzy. Fitting that it was Belton, who picked up two crucial fourth-down conversions during the game.
The game was an instant classic, the longest game in the history of Penn State football, and a landmark win in the Bill O’Brien era. It was a team that needed a win like that following the debacle last week at Indiana, and boy did they sure get it.