Nittany Lions Hold off Iowa for 30-24 win
By BILL ALBRIGHT
EasternPAFootball.com Senior Writer
University Park — Anyone will be quick to tell you that an ugly win is always better than a loss.
There was no player named Murphy who participated in the Iowa versus Penn State Big 10 clash Saturday night, but right from the opening kickoff, Murphy’s Law was there because whatever could go wrong many times did just that as the Nittany Lions held off Iowa down the stretch for a 30-24 win over the Hawkeyes before a crowd of 105,444 rain soaked fans at Beaver Stadium.
Although happy that his team got the win, PSU head coach James Franklin took a moment in his post-game session to reflect on the tragic shooting situation that took place in Pittsburgh.
“The first thing I would like to do is put things in perspective, so I would like to take a moment for the families and victims in Pittsburgh, we are thinking about them,” said Franklin. “Obviously, exciting football game but we have tragic events in our country right now that do not make a lot of sense.”
The first half set the tempo of the game for the most part as both teams were guilty of mistake after mistake during the 30 minutes. For the Lions, a three-and-out to begin the game followed two drops by the receivers, a blocked punt that resulted in a safety, a fumble in a crucial situation, and the list goes on.
While all of the bumbling and stumbling by the Lions was going on early in the game, the Hawkeyes cashed in for a 27-yard field goal by Hawkeye kicker Miguel Recinos before the Hawkeyes pulled one out of their bag of Halloween surprises when they again lined up in field goal formation, only to fake the field goal that resulted in a touchdown and a 12-0 Hawkeye lead.
Not to let their slow and mistake-ridden start to the game bother them, the Lions showed their resilience when quarterback Trace McSorley connected with tight end Pat Freiermuth for an 18-yard TD pass to cut the Iowa lead to 12-7 at the first turn.
Although the Lions were on the board, the second period didn’t start any better then the first one as the snap from center in punt formation sailed out of the end zone for the second safety of the contest.
As though the Lions needed to face more adversity in the game, the tail end of one of PSU’s offensive plays found McSorley in somewhat of a fetal position on the ground.
With McSorley on the sideline, that meant it was time for Tommy Stevens to be the next-man-up. Later in the quarter following an interception and 44-yard return of the theft by John Reid that carried to the Iowa 3-yard line, Stevens carried the mail to pay dirt for the final three yards and the score with 6:45 left in the first half.
With the game deadlocked following the 14-point PSU spurt to get the Lions even at 14-14, Recinos and PSU kicker Jake Pinegar traded field goals for a 17-17 tie at the break.
“We were fortunate to be going into halftime the way that we were,“ said Franklin. “I do not know if I have ever been a part of two snaps that have resulted in two safeties like that in one game, so that was pretty challenging, but our defense was just so resilient. Brent Pry, our defensive staff and our defensive players did not give up a traditional touchdown tonight, not one. It was a pretty impressive and gutsy performance by our defense tonight.”
After the Lions outscored the Hawkeyes 17-5 to close out the first half, they added on in the third period when McSorley came off the turf to sprint down the left sideline to the house from 51 yards out and Pinegar tacked on a career-best 49-yard field goal to give the Lions a 27-17 at the turn for home.
As for what he saw on the play, McSorley simply said it was execution on everyone’s part.
“The offensive line did a great job. It was a great play call,“ said McSorley. “We had schemed that one up from one of the things they’ve shown on film. We did a really good job in our preparation aspect on that play. The offensive line did a good job as far as getting their blocks and creating a hole so all I had to do was run straight. DeAndre [Thompkins] did an excellent job blocking down field.”
“Trace McSorley is the best football player in college football. I do not care what anyone says because he is as tough as it gets,“ said Franklin. “He goes out on the field after we are able to get him back in the game and Ricky Rahne makes a great call against cover 0 and Trace is able to run for 51 yards, which was a huge play in the game. I also want to give some credit to Tommy Stevens. This day in age in college football where everyone is worried about just themselves, Tommy Stevens has put his teammates, the program and the university first. He has already graduated, so he could have left to play anywhere but instead he has been sitting behind Trace McSorley for three years, and all he does is go into the game and do his job for us.”
Five minutes into the fourth quarter, McSorley suffered a interception by Hawkeye Geno Stone that resulted in a 24-yard interception return for the TD by Stone to cut the Lion lead to 27-24.
Answering the Hawkeye TD, Pinegar gave the Lions at 30-24 lead when he drilled his third FG of the game, a 44-yard effort.
Although they found themselves down by the six points, the Hawkeyes didn’t go quietly as they made things interesting down the stretch.
Already in field goal range for Recinos, the Lion defensive unit that played a huge part in the game responded to the task at hand as defensive back Nick Scott picked off a Nate Stanley pass inside the five-yard line to keep the Hawkeyes off the scoreboard.
As for his game-saving “pick” Scott said, “ I just wanted to hold on to the ball. That one was a floater. It’s the easy ones you have to hold on to tight,” explained Scott about his thought process. “Just because your eyes, you see the hundred yards in front of you and it’s hard to focus one hundred percent on the ball. I was able to secure the catch and I tried to keep going, but I lost my footing a little bit. The important thing is that I had the ball.”
Following Scott’s “pick”, the Lion offense couldn’t sustain a consistent effort to close out the game, but the defense stepped up tall to handle the Hawkeye offense and preserve the win.
“Nick Scott is an example, like we have had a number of over the past four or five years, of guys that have had different paths and journey to success,“ said Franklin. “Some guys get it fast, some guys get it mid-point and some guys get it late. Nick is an example of someone who has had success on special teams, but not a whole lot on defense. We talk about championship habits in our program a lot, and Nick is one of those guys who is doing everything right. He is doing everything right in school, he is treating people right, he is a great leader, he is a great teammate he is tough, and he just keeps getting better.
With the result, both teams have identical records at 6-2 overall and 3-2 in conference action.
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