Penn State University played Boston College yesterday in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium and I was lucky to be able to attend the game. It was the fifth annual Pinstripe Bowl (Yankee Bowl) at Yankee Stadium, and the 2014 edition was the most exciting as it was the only one that has gone into overtime with the Penn State Nittany Lions getting a thrilling 31-30 win over the Boston College Eagles.
I was in the Penn State section and the crowd, which was likely 70-75 percent PSU fans, saw Christian Hackenberg win MVP of the game after throwing for 371 yards and four key touchdowns. He was a five-star recruit out of Fork Union Military Academy and decided to stay with the program after the sanctions were handed down in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. It was the team’s first bowl game in three years as a result of the multi-year bowl ban and reduced scholarships.
With 2:12 left in the third quarter Penn State was down 21-7, but the Nittany Lions would go on to score 21 unanswered points to tie the game. The improved defensive and offensive execution gave Penn State the momentum and got the Penn State faithful to give the team the much needed vocal support.
There were two plays that caused the Penn State crowd at Yankee Stadium to celebrate with everyone around them. The first was when Penn State kicker Sam Ficken, who surely got some clutch vibes from using Derek Jeter’s old locker, nailed a 45 yard field goal to tie the game at 24. The Nittany Lions went 49 yards down the field in 1:50 after Boston College kicker Mike Knoll made a 20 yard field goal with 2:10 left as a result of the Penn State defense stepping up in the red zone.
In overtime, Boston College had the first possession and David Dudeck scored a 21-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Murphy after a Penn State missed tackle. However, my whole section cheered as a result of Knoll’s PAT that did not come even close to going through the uprights. He was only 32 of 39 on PATs in the regular season, and he is directly responsible for this loss. When Penn State got the ball after Knoll shanked the kick, Hackenberg threw a perfect 10-yard fade pass to tight end Kyle Carter in the end-zone to tie the game. Ficken kicked a perfect PAT to win the game and send the crowd into a frenzy.
The Nittany Lions offense was led by their passing attack, but Akeel Lynch ran for 75 yards on 17 carries, which included a 35-yard run where he avoided two tackles and nearly scored a TD. He is now the 42nd Penn State player with 1,000 career rushing yards.
Four different Penn State players caught touchdowns from Hackenberg and the receiver who easily topped 100 receiving yards was true freshman Chris Godwin. His 72-yard score where he avoided a tackle approaching the end-zone near the sideline gave the Nittany Lions a 7-0 lead in the middle of the first quarter, and he would tack on 78 more yards for a total of 140. DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis pulled down Hackenberg’s other two TD passes.
Jon Hillman ran for 148 yards that incuded a 49-yard touchdown in the first half, but it came in a losing effort for the Eagles. The repeated We are… PENN STATE chants by the Penn State faithful proved to give Penn State the edge as they got their first bowl win since the Capital One Bowl in 2010 (this win was vacated because of the sanctions).
After the game, the players gathered in the middle of the field and then walked around the warning track in the outfield to high-five the fans who were leaning over the wall. They made sure to thank all the fans who stayed and supported the team.
Hamilton, who had dealt with a hamstring injury the previous five weeks, made his way into my section to see his family and greet the fans. Brandon Bell, who had been injured for previous games, also climbed into my section to thank the fans. James Franklin, who is in his first season as the Penn State coach after previously turning around the Vanderbilt football program, was very excited after the game when talking to the crowd.
“You want to talk about culture? Look around, this is culture,” coach James Franklin told the stadium which was still packed with Penn State fans about 30 minutes after the game ended. After the game, Lynch sent out a tweet about how happy he was that the program was back after the sanctions were levied. “Pinstripe Bowl Champions!! “You’ll never play in post season game if you stay at PennState.” they said… Great to be back.”
More people actually watched the Pinstripe Bowl (49,012) than Derek Jeter’s final home game (48,613), which proves how diehard the Penn State fans are and how they wanted to see a Pinstripe Bowl victory. It was an exciting game to watch in person because the fans were so passionate. They were standing for basically the final five minutes of regulation and overtime.