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Lion Tales: Rutgers

The first Big Ten clash between the two schools was a notable one

Penn State v Rutgers Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Joe Paterno and Doug Graber’s famous postgame handshake spat came in 1995, a few moments after a notorious late touchdown pass from the Lions in a wacky 59-34 win at the Meadowlands against Rutgers.

That game was the final of 17 straight between the programs - a stretch that saw Rutgers win just once.

Well, 2014 brought plenty of newness for the two schools. Penn State was in its third sanctioned year, but had a fresh new coach on the sideline in James Franklin. Meanwhile, Rutgers was in its inaugural year in the Big Ten. Both teams were 2-0 and ready for a hyped conference opener in Piscataway - their first meeting since that night back in 1995.

That brings us to today’s Lions Tales.

This isn’t ancient history, but it might as well be. Penn State had no depth, while Rutgers was hoping this drizzly September night would establish them on the Big Ten stage as a serious program capable of beating anyone.

What followed was a wacky and dramatic game, most remembered for mistakes.

Both teams were scoreless through a quarter thanks to turnovers and blocked kicks, but Rutgers took control of the game in the second quarter.

Quarterback Gary Nova - much more effective with his legs than arm - ran for a 14-yard score and the Scarlet Knights tacked on a 32-yard field goal in the dying seconds of the second. At the half, Penn State looked listless and trailed 10-0.

Trevor Williams’s interception in the third quarter gave Penn State some life and the Lions put together a long drive that culminated in a Sam Ficken field goal.

Ficken added another field goal early in the fourth quarter, though it came after a Lion drive stalled deep in Rutgers territory.

All of this led to the drive that many of us lived together on a game thread. Penn State, led by Christian Hackenberg, took over at its own 20-yard line with 3:02 to go.

It took one play for Lion fans to believe that the offense could come through in the clutch as Hackenberg connected with Geno Lewis for a 53-yard gain.

A minute later, Hackenberg hit Jesse James for an apparent go-ahead score, but it was brought back because of a holding penalty. Hackenberg kept his poise, hitting Lewis again for a huge gain down to the Rutgers six-yard line.

Two plays later, hometown hero Bill Belton scurried in from five yards out and Penn State had a 13-10 lead after Ficken’s PAT.

Anthony Zettel sacked Gary Nova on the first play of the drive, leading to one of the more hilarious desperation plays against Penn State ever on second down. Nova escaped the pocket, ran to his own sideline, crossed the line of scrimmage, tried to back pedal and throw down field.

He was penalized for an illegal forward pass and two plays later, Ryan Keiser secured the second game-clinching interception of his career. It was the fifth interception of the game for Penn State’s defense.

The Nittany Lions had escaped a hornet’s nest and Rutgers hasn’t been within two scores of beating the Lions ever since. Rutgers did finish that season 8-5 with a bowl win over North Carolina (and a regular season win against Michigan). However, the Black Knights have been to just one bowl game since that season.