Bill Belton jump cut outside off of fullback Pat Zerbe's block, into the end zone, and a raucous 108,000 crowd exploded, overcome by joy and frayed nerves. Penn State beat Michigan 43-40, in quadruple overtime, in the game of the season. This was college football at its greatest.
Penn State won the opening toss and deferred. Michigan returned the kickoff to its own 30, and handed the ball to Fitz Toussaint on 1st down for a loss of 3 yards. It would be a familiar theme on the evening, as Penn State's maligned defense registered 11 tackles for loss, holding Wolverine tailbacks to 28 yards on 30 carries.
After a Michigan three-and-out, Penn State drove from its own 36 into Michigan territory. A Christian Hackenberg pass on 2nd and 4 was intercepted at the Wolverine 18 by Jarrod Wilson to kill the threat. But three plays later, Michigan QB Devin Gardner returned the favor, as Jordan Lucas cut in front of his pass, and returned the interception to the Wolverine 14 yard line. Hackenberg hit 5th-year senior WR Brandon Felder crossing the back of the end zone, and Penn State took the first lead, 7-0.
Michigan answered immediately. Gardner hit a wide open Devin Funchess streaking behind the Nittany Lion defense for a 59-yard TD strike, knotting the score at 7-7.
Usually both teams settle in to the game after trading early blows. Not tonight. The fireworks had just begun. Bill O'Brien chose to go for it on PSU's ensuing possession, with a 4th and 1 from its own 33. Michigan stuffed the QB sneak. Penn State's defense rose to the challenge, stuffing Toussaint for a loss of 1, and sacking Gardner for a loss of 8, forcing a punt, which Michigan downed at the Penn State 6. The Lions could not earn a first down, punted, and Michigan used the short field and two Gardner scrambles to settle for a 47-yard field goal from Brendon Gibbons, taking its first lead, 10-7.
The big plays didn't stop. Early in the second quarter, Penn State defensive coordinator John Butler fooled QB Gardner with a zone blitz, and DE Anthony Zettel recorded his first career interception, which he returned to the Wolverine 20. On the very next snap, Penn State regained the lead as Hackenberg hit TE Jesse James off of play action for his second TD pass, and a 14-10 lead.
Penn State next forced a Wolverine 3-and-out, and the Lions' offense caught fire. Penn State drove from its own 39 to the Michigan 24 in 9 plays. Facing 3rd and 10, and under another Greg Mattison pressure, Hackenberg stepped up in the pocket and threw a fade stop to Felder, who came down with the ball in the end zone, and a 21-10 Penn State lead.
Gardner and the Wolverines would mount an answering drive, but on 3rd and 5 from the PSU 40, DE CJ Olaniyan, came unblocked off the edge. Olaniyan strip sacked Gardner, and senior DT DaQuan Jones recovered the ball to squash the threat. The first half would end with the Lions holding an 11-point lead.
Penn State, though, would come unhinged in the 3rd quarter. On the first play following the kickoff, Zach Zwinak would head off tackle and fumble. Michigan's Frank Clark scopped up the pill, and went untouched into the end zone, cutting the PSU lead to 4, at 21-17.
After trading 3-and-outs, Penn State's true freshman Hackenberg threw an ill-advised comeback toward Felder on 3rd down. Michigan's Raymon Taylor read the play, broke on the ball, and made the interception, setting up the Wolverine offense with a 1st down at the Penn State 26. The Penn State defense limited the damage to another Gibbons field goal - but the lead had been cut to just 1 point, 21-20, and Michigan owned the momentum.
Penn State swung right back, though. The Lions marched 60 yards in 9 plays, to the Michigan 28. Belton led the squad, with 4 runs and 2 receptions for 36 of the yards. A Sam Ficken 45-yard field goal made the score 24-20.
From there, Devin Gardner put the Wolverines on his back. He hit Jeremy Gallon for 24 yards, and got 11 more on another throw as Penn State was flagged for pass interference. Three Gardner runs for another 22 yards moved the ball into the Penn State red zone, and from there Gardner hit Gallon again, this time for 16 yards and a touchdown, reclaiming the lead, 27-24.
The Penn State offense answered back, but a Ficken 47-yard FG sailed wide. With good field position, Gardner crossed mid field with throws to Gallon and Drew Dileo. Then he hit Funchess down the seam for 37-yards and, what appeared to be at the time, the game sealing points, 34-24.
Penn State fought back, but stalled at the Michigan 23, and was forced to settle for another Ficken field goal, drawing the Lions back to within one score, 34-27. Michigan, with just 6:35 remaining in the game, went conservative. Four straight runs produced 1 first down, but left the Wolverines facing 3rd and 12. Gardner and Gallon tried a double move on Adrian Amos, and though the ball fell incomplete, out of bounds, it drew a crucial pass interference penalty - correctly - and produced another first down. Two more runs forced Penn State to continue burning timeouts. Gardner, again, with a 3rd and 7 staring him in the face, dropped back and took off, converting yet another 1st down.
Penn State finally held. Fitz Toussaint ran twice more, for 1 and 0 yards. With 3rd and 9 at the PSU 27, within Gibbons' field goal range, Michigan was flagged for delay of game. Replaying the 3rd down, Toussaint was mobbed for a 3 yard loss. Those 8 eight yards lost proved critical, as Michigan coach Brady Hoke elected to pooch punt from the PSU 35, expecting to pin PSU deep with less than 1 minute remaining. Matt Wile's punt went into the endzone for a touchback.
With 80 yards to go and just 50 seconds on the clock, Hackenberg came out firing. He completed a comeback to Allen Robinson on the left sideline, which was initially ruled out of bounds. Replay made the correction, giving PSU a 1st down at their own 34. Hack next threw into coverage, but Felder came down with the ball for a huge gain of 29 yards, and a first down at the Michigan 37. On 2nd down, Hack hit Robinson at the Michigan goalline. Robinson skied over the Michigan DB, coming down with the ball six inches from pay dirt. Hackenberg took the ball across himself, on a sneak, the next snap. Tie game, 34-34. Penn State had gone 80 yards in 5 plays and only 23 seconds.
We'd be heading to overtime - but not just yet. Gardner, with 27 ticks remaining, played brilliantly. He hit Gallon for 25, and Justice Hayes for 5 more. With 2 seconds left, Gibbons ran on to the field. His 52-yard attempt was true, but fell just short.
Exhausting. But we'd only just started.
Penn State lost the coin flip and had to go on offense first. They were unable to make a first down, and settled for another Sam Ficken field goal. His 40-yard attempt stayed wide left. And so, it appeared, the Penn State comeback would end for naught.
Michigan, confident in their kicker Gibbons, plowed the ball into the line 3 times, and ran the bearded dude out there. DT Kyle Baublitz got a great push in the middle of the line, and blocked it. The Lions were alive.
A second nerve shattering overtime would result in 2 made field goals. A third overtime began. Hackenberg handed the ball to Robinson on a reverse, but it was fumbled away and recovered by Frank Clark. So - for a 3rd or 4th time on the night, Penn State would fall just short. But Gibbons - who holds the Wolverine record for consecutive field goals made - pulled his 33-yard game winner left.
Unbelievable. The Lions were still, miraculously, alive. And we headed to a 4th overtime.
Michigan began aggressively. They threw twice, but completed none. On 3rd and 10, Gardner dropped back and scrambled again, coming up short. Gibbons made a 40-yarder, putting Michigan back in front for the moment, 40-37.
Penn State ran Belton three straight times, Facing 4th and inches, BOB rolled the dice. "I didn't know how much more our kids had left in the tank. Somebody had to try to win this thing," said BOB after the game. Bill Belton stayed patient, found a hole, and drove through it for a fresh set of downs.
Belton ran for 3 more on first down. On 2nd, Hackenberg threw a perfect fade to Robinson in the corner of the end zone, but Michigan's Blake Countess managed to break up the play. With 3rd and 8, Hackenberg again targeted Robinson in the end zone - and the Wolverines were flagged for pass interference. Belton took the next snap off tackle, and mayhem ensued. 43-40. Game over. Season saved.
Three Completely Unrelated, Probably Useless Thoughts
1) Long before Penn State won - maybe even as Michigan took a 34-24 lead early in the 4th quarter - you knew this was a great game. The crowd, the crisp air, the band, the back and forth play-making on the field; fullbacks, tight ends, and man-ball power runs, missing from so many games these days - it looked so much like the epic Penn State-Michigan games from the 1990's. True, those squads were overflowing with pro talent, and these two are not. But the battle of wills between two evenly matched teams, with each side trading haymakers...just an incredible game.
2) DaQuan Jones, I somehow wrote 1500 words with barely mentioning your name. And that is ridiculous. You owned the interior line, and were a complete wrecking ball out there. Congratulations, big man. I'm sure this is one you'll remember for a long time. We certainly won't forget it, or your role in it.
3) Wow. What. A. Game. The quote of the night belongs to 18-year old, true frosh Hackenberg. After he saw Belton cross the goalline, and with the entire squad streaming onto the field from the sideline, "I just ran somewhere and hit somebody." Well put.
More from Black Shoe Diaries:
- No Matter What, It Was Worth It: Penn State 43, Michigan 40
- Penn State Opens Pegula Ice Arena With a Win, Defeats Army 4-1
- Q&A With Matt Millen
Follow @BSDtweet on Twitter
And join us on Facebook
All BSD community members should review our current Posting & Commenting Policies before creating any posts or commenting.