James Franklin likes to say that there are “no moral victories” in college football, and that turned out to be true as the Penn State Nittany Lions topped the Boston College Eagles by a final score of 31-30 at Yankee Stadium for their first bowl win since 2010.
The first half was uneventful; neither team could mount any kind of sustainable offense. The only scoring opportunities came in the first quarter. Penn State drew first blood after sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg completed a 72-yard pass to freshman wide receiver Chris Godwin with 5:22 left in the first. Kicker Sam Ficken’s extra point attempt was good to give the Nittany Lions a short-lived 7-0 lead.
Boston College was quick to respond; it only took two plays for freshman running back Jon Hilliman to run 52 yards for the Eagles’ first touchdown of the night.
These back-to-back touchdowns would wrap up the scoring action for the first half. The Penn State offense looked shaky after senior Miles Dieffenbach was helped off of the field after an injury and did not return.
The second half started out with a bang and made up for the lack of action in the first 30 minutes after Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy drilled a pass to Shakim Phillips, capping off 60 yards on 11 plays to take a seven-point lead over Penn State.
Just over five minutes later, Murphy would rush 40 yards for another touchdown for a 21-14 Boston College lead after the top-ranked Penn State defense was unable to hold the Eagles in place.
Penn State refused to give up and struck back. The end of the third quarter saw Geno Lewis tip and catch a pass from Hackenberg to cut into the Boston College lead.
The Nittany Lions battled for 7:12 before being rewarded by a touchdown when Hackenberg found a hole and drilled a 16-yard pass to wide receiver Daesean Hamilton to tie the score at 21 apiece.
Boston College fought its way back after Mike Knoll netted a 20-yard field goal to snatch the lead back with just 2:10 remaining in the game.
With only :20 remaining in regulation, Ficken nailed a 44-yard field goal to tie the score once again and send the game to overtime.
The Lions won the coin toss and elected to defend first, but were unable to stop the Eagles from scoring a touchdown off a 21-yard pass from Murphy to David Dudeck. However, the Eagles could not convert the extra point for the eighth time this season, and took a 30-24 lead.
Despite a sloppy opening play, Penn State worked the ball down the field to set up Kyle Carter for the touchdown pass from Hackenberg that would tie the game for the final time. Ficken took the field for the extra point attempt, delivering one final miracle to Penn State as he sent the ball between the uprights to bookend his season with walk-off wins.
As the Nittany Lions stormed the field after the hard-fought victory, Franklin stopped, kneeled on the field, and looked up, seemingly praying in the postgame chaos. His emotion carried through to his press conference appearance, remarking, “Games like this restore the hope. These guys will be remembered forever.”
Hackenberg was named MVP.
The infamous Yankee Stadium was fitted for a football game on Saturday night, and the sellout crowd of 49,012 fans rained noise and passion on the two teams, but it was the Nittany Lions that managed to turn New York into central Pennsylvania with the enormous fanbase that turned out to support them in Penn State’s first official bowl win since 1997.
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