October 1, 2016, the day that the entire trajectory of James Franklin’s Nittany Lions changed. It was a cold, rainy Saturday in Happy Valley and Penn State was coming off a 49-10 shellacking at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines. Following that loss, there were rumblings that Franklin’s seat may be hot. After October 1, 2016, those rumblings went away and never came back.
On that cold, rainy Happy Valley Saturday afternoon, Penn State defeated Minnesota 29-26 in overtime. This game, which is one of the best I have ever attended, was the first of a nine-game winning streak for the Nittany Lions. This winning streak would include an unforgettable upset of Ohio State, as well as the 2016 Big Ten Championship Game.
Entering the game many Nittany Lion fans were feeling doom and gloom when it came to the team they love. I still remember the tailgate lots being filled with fans who were expecting Penn State to lose to the 3-0 Golden Gophers that day. Hell, many of these fans were worried that they 2-2 Nittany Lions would fail to reach a bowl game. Hoo boy were they all proven wrong.
Early on in the content, however, their fears seemed legitimate. In the first half Penn State’s offense could get nothing going. This led to Penn State trailing 13-3 at halftime. Combine the way the game was going with poor weather conditions and many fans left Beaver Stadium at halftime. Those who did would miss getting to watch what was the start of the current 40-9 stretch the Nittany Lions are entrenched in begin.
To start the second half Penn State’s struggles continued. The Nittany Lion offense went three-and-out to start the half, but the defense would force a punt. Then on 3rd and 10, arguably the most important play of the Franklin Era occured.
Trace McSorley connected with Irvin Charles on a pass that former offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead would correctly say caught Charles more so than Charles catching the ball. 80 yards later, Penn State had their spark.
While Charles was a highly rated recruit and as naturally gifted and talented as any wide receiver Franklin as signed, due to off the field issues and on the field lapses (cough, cough, special teams penalties) Charles never did put it all together for Penn State. But his one big play as a Nittany Lions will forever be one of the biggest of the Franklin Era.
After the defense forced a three-and-out, Penn State kicked a field goal to tie the game. Following another Minnesota punt, a 6-yard touchdown run by McSorley capped off an 85-yard drive to give Penn State their first lead of the game.
Minnesota responded with a touchdown drive to tie the game, and were threatening to score again when another unsung hero stepped up. While this was not the only big play he would make in 2016, it was the first. Redshirt senior Jordan Smith intercepted a Mitch Leidner pass in the end zone with 11:36 remaining in the 4th quarter, keeping the game tied at 20.
With 5:34 remaining in the game, Minnesota took over at their own 23 yard line following a Blake Gillikin punt. The Golden Gophers then put together an 11-play, 58 yard drive. This drive was capped off by a Emmit Carpenter field goal that gave them a 23-20 lead with just :54 seconds remaining in the game.
Penn State’s hopes looked bleak at this point. However, this would be where the magic of McSorley may have truly begun. In :52 seconds Trace led the Nittany Lions 52 yards down the field into field goal range. This included a borderline miraculous completion to Chris Godwin on a 3rd and 10, as well as a 26-yard run by Trace to get Penn State into field goal range.
With just :02 second left on the clock Tyler Davis took the field to attempt a 40-yard field goal. In what was the clutchest kick of a big junior season for Davis, the former soccer player drilled the kick to send the game to overtime.
Minnesota kicked a field goal on the first possession of overtime to take a 26-23 lead. Penn State then took the field for their first play of the overtime period needed a touchdown to win it. McSorley handed the ball off to Barkley. Saquon did what he oh so often did and made a few defenders look silly. 25 yards later, he was in the end zone and the Nittany Lions were celebrating a 29-26 overtime victory.
When the game was over there was a combination of relief and excitement outside of Beaver Stadium. Following the game, yours truly would make the bold prediction to the friends he was tailgating with that Penn State would not lose again that season. Call me Nostradamus.