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 roster 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 to 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.
Blacknall had a bit of an inconsistent career and his talent was at times overshadowed in a loaded receiving corps. However, he absolutely shined in the 2016 Big Ten Championship game, hauling in eight receptions for 155 yards and two touchdowns. He was the catalyst for an epic comeback that led Penn State to one of the most unexpected conference crowns in Big Ten history.
The state of the program was looking in poor shape as a 2-2 Penn State team found itself struggling against Minnesota following a blowout loss to Michigan. Thanks to some late heroics, the Nittany Lions were able to put together a furious drive with under a minute left to set up a 40-yard field goal by Davis to send the game into overtime as time expired. If Davis didn’t drill this clutch kick, there would be no Big Ten championship, and who knows how things would have ultimately shaken out for the Nittany Lions.
Gesicki made so many eye-popping plays during the past two seasons that it’s easy to completely forget some “Did I just see that?” moments he produced, like this one against Temple. But to narrow it down to just one, it has to be the circus touchdown catch early in the Big Ten Championship Game. It was starting to look ugly for the Nittany Lions. Despite being a second-half team, they just seemed outmatched and their dream season was about to come to a screeching halt. Gesicki would have none of it, hauling in an incredible touchdown pass to give Penn State some life, keeping them in the game so they could make an epic comeback to claim the conference crown.
Hamilton created many memorable moments during the past four years as a starter at wide receiver, but had perhaps his finest game on a sunny afternoon in Beaver Stadium where he became Penn State’s all-time receptions leader in a blowout victory against Indiana. The senior captain finished the day with nine catches for 122 yards and three touchdowns. The reception that etched his name in the record books was an absolute beauty- a 26-yard catch with two Hoosier defenders draped on him.
Offensive line is not a glamorous position, and people often don’t notice you unless you screw up. What’s one way for a lineman to get noticed in a positive way? Putting a defender on his dupa, which Mahon did to help Penn State take an early lead against Akron (Pa.) back in week two.
McPhearson was a valuable contributor on special teams, who had his most memorable plays in his last regular season game against Maryland. In the third quarter, McPhearson raced down the field, snuffed out the kick returner, and then made a play to force the ball out of his hands. Who was there to scoop up the fumble for Penn State? None other than McPhearson’s younger brother, cornerback Zech McPhearson. It was a moment the two brothers will assuredly forever cherish.
Penn State had a historically bad offensive line in 2014 thanks to the scholarship restrictions and a few previous recruiting whiffs. However, Nelson offered a silver lining by his tremendous play right out of the gate as a redshirt freshman. Things didn’t turn out the way they should have for Nelson, who would suffer several injuries in the next few seasons. But in 2014, he showed that he had the ability to develop into an All-American. I guess some things just aren’t meant to be.
Pancoast was a key reserve for Gesicki who was a regular contributor for the Penn State offense. But he saved his best for last, diving for a touchdown reception to give Penn State a 52-0 lead as they stomped Maryland to close out the 2017 regular season.