As Penn State prepares for its Fiesta Bowl showdown with the Washington Huskies, a special group of Nittany Lions prepares for its final game in the blue and white. The 2017 senior class came to Penn State when things looked bleak with a reduced scholarships and no likelihood of ever appearing in a bowl game. Yet somehow, they managed to claim an unlikely Big Ten Championship and helped bring the program back as a national title contender. While the future is incredibly bright for the program, the dedication and contributions from this incredible group of players will never be forgotten in Happy Valley.
Allen routinely made plays all over the field, and never shied away from lighting someone up to stop them dead in their tracks. This was obvious in the 2016 Big Ten Championship Game, when Wisconsin needed just one yard on fourth down to keep their drive alive in the hopes of tying- or possibly taking the lead with a touchdown in the final moments. Allen was having none of that, combined with frequent collaborator Grant Haley to stop Corey Clement at the line of scrimmage to seal a Big Ten Championship for the Nittany Lions.
One of the cornerstones of Brent Pry’s defense is players having the discipline to stay home so they can make open field tackles in space, which Apke handled on a very regular basis. Perhaps one of the best was an absolute beauty against Michigan earlier in the season, which created a huge loss for the Wolverines on third-and-seven, forcing a punt when they were already down 14-0.
Not many exuded passion like Cabinda, who seemed to always feed off the Beaver Stadium atmosphere. That was never more apparent than the 2016 Iowa game where he channeled Paul Posluszny and Lavar Arrington, going over the top to stuff quarterback C.J. Beathard on fourth-and-inches. The crowd went into an absolute frenzy and the route was on, with the Nittany Lions claiming a 41-14 blowout victory.
Campbell may have been overshadowed by John Reid and Grant Haley over the years, but he was a consistent performer who really helped shore up the secondary during the past four years. Perhaps his most memorable play, however, was this beauty of a strip sack where he ran around/through his blocker to create a turnover that helped finish off Michigan in front of the White Out crowd earlier this season.
You know what’s really fun? Watching a massive defensive tackle bulldoze an overmatched interior lineman right into the quarterback for a sack, which Chavis did so masterfully on this play against (real) Akron. I could watch this all day long.
Cothran spent meaningful time on the field throughout his career, but really started to stand out towards the latter stretch of the 2016 season. This was never more obvious than the Big Ten Championship Game, where he took residence in Wisconsin’s backfield. Penn State needed every last bit of effort to come away with the victory, and it wuld not have happened without Cothran making plays throughout the evening to kill sever Wisconsin drives.
Cothren was one of the most underratted Nittany Lions in recent memory. He handled the dirty work in the trenches so the others around him could shine. Fittingly enough, there was no one moment to define Cothren’s career. Rather, he spent four years on the field, including three as a starter, to help Penn State’s defense always find unexpected success.
Since Haley’s partner is crime Marcus Allen was recognized for the “Fourth and Done” play, you already know where this is going. Penn State was hanging on by a thread against Ohio State, trying desperately just to stay in the game. And then one of the biggest plays in program history occurred thanks to this dynamic duo. Allen made his way to block a late Ohio State field goal, and Haley had the presence of mind to scoop it up and run past one of the fastest punters in college football history for the game-winning touchdown, which would help launch a Big Ten championship and send a message to the world- PENN STATE IS BACK!
The 2016 season was not friendly to Penn State linebackers. With all of the starters and several key back-ups, an unknown walk-on entered the Temple game and immediately started making plays all over the field. The phrase “nose for the football” is cliche, but it sums up Smith very well- whenever he was on the field, he was always in on the action and making plays.