After gaining 59 total yards since the conclusion of the first quarter, it didn’t look good for Penn State when Boston College took a 21-7 lead with 2:12 remaining in the third quarter of the Pinstripe Bowl.
And then the Penn State offense woke up.
Behind the arm of sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg, a slew of young receivers and senior kicker Sam Ficken, Penn State came all the way back and knocked off the Eagles 31-30 in overtime.
Following that Boston College touchdown, which came on a 40-yard run by quarterback Tyler Murphy, Hackenberg quickly led the Nittany Lions down the field on a six-play, 63-yard drive that culminated with a bit of luck.
On a third-and-two from the Boston College seven-yard line, Hackenberg looked to Geno Lewis on a slant route and the ball was thrown behind Lewis and should have been intercepted by Boston College’s Justin Simmons. Instead, the ball deflected up in the air and into the waiting arms of Lewis (7 catches, 82 yards) for a touchdown on the final play of the third quarter, cutting BC’s lead to 21-14.
The teams traded three straight punts to open the fourth before the Penn State offense went back to work. On the drive’s second play, Hackenberg handed off to sophomore running back Akeel Lynch (17 rushes, 75 yards), who bounced to the outside and broke several tackles before being brought down at the one-yard line. A personal foul penalty then pushed PSU back, but Hackenberg found redshirt freshman wideout DaeSean Hamilton (7 catches, 51 yards) through a tight window on a seam route for the game-tying score.
When it regained possession, Boston College went back to its bread-and-butter: its ground attack. That ground attack racked up yards in bunches in the first half and Murphy and freshman tailback Jon Hilliman ran the Eagles deep into Penn State territory. The Penn State defense, ranked No. 2 in total defense nationally coming into the game, managed to keep the Eagles out of the end zone this time around, forcing a go-ahead 20-yard field goal by Mike Knoll.
Now trailing 24-21, the Penn State offense went back to work with 2:10 to go. Hackenberg completed five straight passes, but a Lynch run was stuffed on third-and-two from the BC 28-yard line and Ficken drilled a 45-yarder to force overtime.
The Eagles opened the extra frame with the football and scored quickly on a Murphy 21-yard touchdown pass to David Dudeck, but Knoll hooked the extra point to the left.
Penn State was able to cash in on the blunder when Hackenberg hit tight end Kyle Carter (3 catches, 30 yards) for a 10-yard score. Ficken then drilled the extra point to clinch the win – Penn State’s first bowl win since the 2009 Capital One Bowl.
Hackenberg struggled for much of the season and hadn’t thrown for more than 200 yards since Oct. 25. Against the Eagles, Hackenberg had one of the best games of his young career, completing 34-of-50 passes for 371 yards and four scores. Seven different players had at least three catches on the day for the Nittany Lions. True freshman Chris Godwin, who caught a 72-yard touchdown to open the scoring in the first quarter, led the way with seven catches for 140 yards.
A Penn State defense that allowed just 84.8 yards per game this season (No. 1 in the nation) was torched by the Eagles for 285 yards on the ground. Hilliman and Murphy rushed for 148 and 105 yards, respectively, but ultimately it was not enough.
The win gives Penn State a 7-6 in year one under James Franklin – the first year the Nittany Lions were eligible to go to a bowl game since the NCAA sanctions from the Jerry Sandusky scandal were levied in July 2012.