Penn State Wins Four OT Heart Stopper vs. Michigan
In a game filled with countless twists and turns, the Penn State Nittany Lions (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) prevailed over the No. 18 Michigan Wolverines (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten) in a 43-40 four-overtime classic in front of a Beaver Stadium “Whitehouse” on Saturday night.
An 80-yard Penn State drive in the final minute sent the game into the extra session, and two missed field goals by Michigan during the overtime periods kept the Nittany Lions’ chances alive. Finally, a two-yard touchdown scamper by Bill Belton, sent 107,448 fans home in jubilation on a night to remember during Homecoming Weekend.
“Both teams hung in there, both teams fought hard and thankfully Penn State came out on the winning end,” O’Brien said. “It just says a lot about our kids, a very resilient bunch of kids that care about each other and really love playing for Penn State.”
In the opening quarter, the Nittany Lions were the first to crack the scoring column, as Jordan Lucas’ first career interception set up Christian Hackenberg and the Penn State offense in the redzone. The Nittany Lions capitalized on the opportunity when Hackenberg found Brandon Felder running a crossing route in the back of the endzone from 12 yards out, to give Penn State an early 7-0 advantage.
Devin Gardner and the Michigan offense, though, would give Penn State very little time to savor its lead. Getting Penn State safety Ryan Keiser to bite on a pump fake, Gardner connected with his tight end Devin Funchess, streaking deep downfield on a 59-yard touchdown strike to even the score at seven apiece.
The Wolverines would go on to take a 10-7 advantage on a season-long 47-yard field goal from Brendan Gibbons, but their lead would not be long-lasting either. On Michigan’s next possession, a Gardner pass was thrown right into the waiting arms of Penn State defensive end Anthony Zettel, who had dropped back into zone coverage. Zettel’s first career interception set up the Penn State offense on Michigan’s 20-yard-line, and on the very next play, Hackenberg connected with tight end Jesse James for his first touchdown catch of the season, as the Nittany Lions went back in front, 14-10.
After forcing a three-and-out on the ensuing Michigan possession, Penn State would extend its lead with another Hackenberg-to-Felder connection---this time from 24 yards out---to go up 21-10.
On Michigan’s next drive, first-team preseason All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan had to exit the game with an injury, and his absence proved to be costly. With the Wolverines nearing field goal range, Penn State defensive end C.J. Olaniyan raced around the left side of the Michigan line and delivered a blind-side hit on Gardner, causing the ball to pop free. DaQuan Jones was there to pounce on it for the Nittany Lions, as Gardner committed his third turnover of the first half.
For the first time in the game, though, Penn State was unable to come away with points off of the Michigan turnover, and the half came to a close with the Nittany Lions leading 21-10.
Hackenberg finished the half completing 9 of 15 passes for 111 yards and 3 touchdowns, and Gardner went 6-for-12 with 88 passing yards and one score.
Neither team could get their run game going, with Michigan totaling 2.4 yards per rush and Penn State averaging just 2.2.
The first play from scrimmage in the second half was disastrous for the Nittany Lions, as running back Zach Zwinak coughed up the ball, and Michigan defensive end Frank Clark was on the spot to scoop it up and score from 24 yards out to trim the Wolverines’ deficit to 21-17.
Several possessions later, Hackenberg’s third-down pass was intercepted by Michigan’s Raymon Taylor, which would lead to a 23-yard chip shot from Gibbons to cut the Nittany Lions’ lead to 21-20. Penn State responded with a 45-yard field goal from Sam Ficken, but on Michigan’s ensuing possession, Gardner marched the Wolverines down the field and found receiver Jeremy Gallon on a 16-yard score to give the Wolverines a 27-24 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Tight ends with an ability to stretch the field are a rare breed, and on Michigan’s next drive, the Wolverines were able to use Funchess’ speed to their advantage for the second time in the game. Being covered by linebacker Glenn Carson, Funchess raced downfield, got a step ahead of Carson, and pulled in a 37-yard touchdown catch in the back of the endzone to give Michigan its largest lead of the game at 10.
A 43-yard make from Ficken with 6:35 to play enabled the Nittany Lions to draw within one possession.
Then, desperately needing a stop to get the ball back in the hands of their offense, the Nittany Lions thought they accomplished the task when a third-down pass from Gardner sailed incomplete. However, much to the dismay of the Penn State faithful, who thought the pass was uncatchable, defensive back Adrian Amos was called for pass interference on the play to extend the drive.
Needing just a field goal to put the game on ice, Michigan’s offense worked its way down to the Penn State 27-yard-line, but an illegal procedure penalty and a three-yard loss on the subsequent play knocked the Wolverines out of field goal range and forced a punt.
The incredible drama began to unfold when the Penn State offense took over on its own 20 with a mere 50 seconds to play and no timeouts to work with. Allen Robinson, who had been uncharacteristically quiet all evening long, made a highlight-reel toe-dragging catch along the sidelines to pick up 14 yards. On the next play, Hackenberg hoisted the ball high in the air in the direction of Brandon Felder, and his prayer was answered. The ball went through a Michigan player’s hands and into Felder’s arms for a 29-yard gain to the Michigan 37-yard-line.
After a spike to kill the clock, Hackenberg decided to test his luck again, and this time threw one up to Robinson. The defender leaped a bit too early, and the ball fell into Robinson’s grasp as he went down on the 1-yard-line.
“It was a 50-50 ball, he threw it up and gave me an opportunity to make the catch, and I was able to make the play,” Robinson would remark after the game.
On the next play, Hackenberg sneaked his way into the endzone to send the Beaver Stadium crowd into a frenzy. O’Brien considered going for a two-point conversion and the win, but he instead decided to let Ficken punch home the extra point to knot the score at 34. Gibbons had a 52-yard field goal attempt to try to win the game as time expired, but the Nittany Lion faithful breathed a collective sigh of relief as the kick fell short to send the game into overtime.
Penn State had the ball first in overtime, but its offense failed to pick up a first down, and Ficken’s 40-yard field goal try went wide right, meaning that the Wolverines needed just three points to escape State College with a win. Michigan coach Brady Hoke decided to play it safely with three straight runs, but the conservative strategy would end up haunting the Wolverines. Gibbons’ 40-yard try was blocked by Kyle Baublitz, and Penn State lived to play another overtime.
In the second overtime, each kicker was able to rebound from his prior miss, as both Gibbons and Ficken converted their field goal attempts to send the game into a third overtime.
Penn State’s first play of the third overtime was intended to be an end-around for Robinson, but he lost control of the ball after receiving the handoff, and the Wolverines recovered the fumble. However, once again just needing a field goal to go home victorious, Gibbons’ potential game-winning 33-yard try sailed wide left, giving Penn State yet another new life.
Michigan’s offense failed to move the ball in its fourth overtime possession, but Gibbons managed to shake off his last miss and was good from 40 yards out to give the Wolverines a 40-37 lead.
On Penn State’s ensuing possession, Bill O’Brien was dealt with a difficult decision with his team facing a 4th-and-1 on the 16-yard-line. However, after calling time out to think things over, he sent his offense back onto the field.
“We could sit here and keep trading field goals back and forth,” O’Brien would say after the game. “I think eventually it was time for somebody to win the game, and I had the opportunity to do it.”
O’Brien called on Bill Belton on a sweep play, and on a second effort, he lunged forward for three yards to pick up the crucial first down and keep Penn State’s hopes alive.
Then, on 3rd-and-8, Hackenberg was looking for Robinson in the back of the endzone, and although the pass fell incomplete, Michigan was flagged for pass interference to put Penn State on the doorstep of the goal-line. On the next play, Belton dashed to the left side and made his way into endzone from two yards out to seal the exhilarating 43-40 four-overtime win for the Nittany Lions.
Hackenberg finished the night completing 23 of his 44 passes for 305 yards, three touchdowns through the air and one on the ground, and two interceptions. Belton carried the ball a career-high 27 times for 90 yards and a score, and Felder led all Penn State receivers with 97 yards and two touchdowns.
For Michigan, Gardner went 15-for-28 while registering 240 passing yards and 146 yards on the ground. He threw for three touchdowns but also turned the ball over three times. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint netted just 27 yards on 27 carries on the night, and Devin Funchess led all receivers with 112 yards while adding two scores.
In the kicking game, Ficken finished the day 3-for-5 in the field goal department, while Gibbons was 4-for-7 for the Wolverines.
Defensively, Penn State recorded 11.5 tackles for a loss, including a career-best 2.5 sacks from Olaniyan. Also, even though Michigan came into the game with a Big Ten-leading 54% success rate on third downs, the Wolverines converted just four of their 18 third-down tries on Saturday.
“We blitzed them probably 60% of the time [on third downs], and I think it was pretty effective,” Penn State defensive coordinator John Butler said.
The Nittany Lions have a bye next week and will visit the fourth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes on October 26th.
Bradford Conners is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Contributors
Senior / Broadcast Journalism and Actuarial Science
In addition to his work as a broadcaster, beat writer, talk show host, and bracketologist for ComRadio, Bradford has completed production internships with the sports department of NBC 10 in Philadelphia and the Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics Video Department, in addition to a writing internship with Whiztix, a ticket-comparison site. He is currently interning with ESPN Radio 1450 AM in State College where he serves as a color commentator for State College Area High School baseball games and assists with the production of Penn State baseball broadcasts.