— Story by Brian Tripp (psuTripp)
Before taking a swig of water from one of those oh-so-common green Gatorade bottles that litter the sidelines at football fields across America, Penn State head coach James Franklin aimed the orange cap towards his personal police security detail and squeezed with two hands. Hard. The female officer tasked with protecting Franklin amidst the postgame scrum didn’t seem to mind. Maybe it was a lost cause, already damp from hours of mist and light rain that fell steadily before and during Saturday’s nearly four-hour 29-26 Penn State overtime win against visiting Minnesota. But, more likely, it was the moment.
Franklin couldn’t stop smiling. He hugged anyone willing to embrace. He didn’t want to let go – of the moment, that is.
Penn State struggled to find its footing, literally and figuratively. Boos filled the stadium when the Nittany Lions opted for a field goal from the Gophers’ one-yard line to tie the game, the team’s only first half points. A late scoring drive against a depleted Penn State defense led to a 13-3 Minnesota halftime lead.
To start the second half, Penn State went three-and-out and appeared destined for another until on a third and ten quarterback Trace McSorley slid through another quickly collapsing pocket and heaved a pass downfield for six-foot-four wide receiver Irvin Charles. Making the first catch of his career, Charles shook free from a defender and scampered roughly 50 additional yards for Penn State’s first touchdown.
That was the moment it all changed – the game and, maybe, the season.
Penn State scored 17 unanswered points to take its first lead in six quarters of football. Minnesota rallied, but Penn State answered again with a clutch drive spearheaded by McSorley to setup a last-second, game-tying field goal from Tyler Davis to force overtime. In the extra session, the defense held Minnesota to a field goal allowing star running back Saquon Barkley to end the game with a jaw-dropping bolt through the Gophers’ defense and into the endzone.
Penn State escaped, capturing the first game of a three-game home stand and improving to 3-2. With the win, the Nittany Lions have momentum and hope. They avoid a week of speculation and second-guessing. A homecoming win against unbeaten Maryland this week and the Lions head into a bye with back-to-back wins for the first time in roughly a calendar year. All of sudden, late season games at home against Iowa and Michigan State don’t seem as intimidating. Road trips to Rutgers and Purdue certainly appear to be guaranteed wins.
It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t easy. It never is with this group. But, they never quit. In the end, they wanted it more and made more plays. They overcame injuries. They won the game.