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On This Day In Penn State History

November 27, 1919

(Yeah, ok so I'm a day late. Even BSD takes Thanksgiving off.)

The traditional Thanksgiving Day game between Pitt and Penn State was considered a tossup for the first time in years. Pitt was enjoying a six game winning streak over State and had not lost a home game in five years. But Penn State was riding a four game winning streak over some impressive names like Lehigh, Penn, and Cornell. (Trust me. Back then this was the modern day equivalent of beating Ohio State, Florida, and Texas in successive weeks.)

While scouting for the game, PSU team captain Bob Higgins noticed the Pitt players liked to rush nine or ten players on punts deep inside of enemy territory. So he devised a play to counter this and worked on it with the Penn State punter, Harold Hess. But due to his rocky relationship with head coach Hugo Bezdek, Higgins and Hess practiced the play on their own. One day during practice leading up to the game Bezdek noticed Higgins and Hess practicing the play and questioned them on what they were doing. Higgins explained the play to Bezdek who responded, "It sounds okay, but next time let me know what's going on around here."

Early in the game Pitt was driving for a score, but Penn State stuffed a fourth down rushing attempt at the six yard line and took over on downs. Higgins decided this was a perfect opportunity for "the play." It was common strategy back then to immediately punt out of poor field position without even attempting to achieve a first down. So Pitt had no suspicions of what was about to happen.

Penn State lined up in punt formation and Pitt moved in for a block attempt. The center snapped the ball, and Pitt rushed ten players leaving only one player back to receive the punt. Hess caught the snap in his endzone and drifted to his right. Then he lobbed a perfect pass to a wide open Higgins who had pretended to whiff on his block and released down field. He caught the ball at the ten yard line, and with end George Brown out in front to block, Higgins ran 92 yards for the touchdown. The Penn State fans in attendance went delirious.

Penn State grabbed the early momentum and went on to win the game 20-0. The play "took the heart out of Pitt, who appeared helpless from that stage on," wrote the Public Ledger, "There have been few games in the last quarter century where the Blue and Gold was beaten in the first two minutes of play."

Penn State finished the season 7-1 and many writers called them the champions of the east over Syracuse, Colgate, and Harvard. Higgins would go on to be named Penn State's first two-time Walter Camp All-American. The 92 yard reception is still the longest pass play in Penn State history.

(HT to the always amazing Penn State Encyclopedia by Lou Prato.)