71-yard fumble return puts Penn State past San Diego State, 37-21
State College, PA – Penn State’s 323-lb DT Austin Johnson picked up a fumble by San Diego State QB Max Smith forced by DE Carl Nassib and rambled, somewhat slowly, for a 71-yard TD run to give the Lions a 13-point cushion to hold off the SDSU Aztecs (1-3) for a 37-21 win. Despite continued accuracy problems by PSU QB Christian Hackenberg (21 for 35, 296 yards, 3 TDs), he connected for some long passes and three TDs all in the first half. A personal highlight for CFF.com was to meet our good friend and the all-time No. 1 fan of San Diego State football, Tom Ables and his son Ken, right before the game. Tom was attending his 761st SDSU game ever. The last Aztec game he missed was back in 1964. Today was his 591st SDSU game in a row since then! He’s still travelling wherever his team goes, and he’s battled the elements including snow storms in Wyoming to get to see them on several occasions. Now that’s dedication.
Penn State (3-1,1-0) drew first blood as RB Saquon Barkley took a middle screen pass and dove over the goal line for a 22-yard score. The lead was quickly knotted at seven all when Rashaad Perry of the Aztecs returned the kick off starting from his end zone to the center of the field, picking up some blockers, and racing untouched down the right sideline for a 100-yard score. On a 34-yard run by Barkley and two consecutive completions by Hackenberg, the Lions got into position to tack on three more points on a 40-yard FG by frosh Joey Julius to lead, 10-7, going into the second quarter.
After a three-and-out by the Aztecs, the Lions got into field goal range again with key plays on a 42-yard completion to Saeed Blacknall and a 21-yard run by Barkley. Jones made his kick good from the 24 to lead, 13-7. A 55-yard run by Perry brought SDSU to the 20. QB Max Smith fired to WR Mikah Holder in back of the end zone in the left corner for a great catch to give the visitors a 14-13 advantage. The Tec’s defense next blocked a 55-yard FG attempt by Jones and took over at their own 38 but could not capitalize. They forced the Lions to punt from the 29, but returner Lloyd Mills fumbled and Chris Goodwin recovered to set up a new drive for the Lions at SDSU’s 27. At the 13, “Hack” hit RB Mark Allen in the left flat and he crossed the goal line for a 20-13 lead with 1:03 left in the second. The Aztecs took over and DE Garrett Sickels forced a fumble by Donnel Pumphrey that was recovered by PSU DT Anthony Zettel. Penn State took advantage as Hackenberg threw his third TD pass of the first half from 11 yards to Chris Godwin for a 27-14 halftime lead.
It was a great day for tailgating. Besides Tom and Ken Ables coming out to State College from San Diego for the first time, I also brought along a couple of other first-timers to Beaver Stadium as well. Dave Headden ( Ohio Wesleyan) and Mike Ford (Providence College) came to enjoy great weather and great tailgate food including beef brisket served up by John and Kelle Massimilla as part of the pre-game tailgate festivities. My daughter, Alex, a disappointed South Carolina Gamecock graduate with her alma mater struggling so far this season, also joined up as she had enjoyed many visits to State College since she was a little kid. Also meeting up with us a little while before the game was long-time CFF fan “Seton (Hall)” Fred Bacchetta and his sons Mark (Delaware) and Stephen (Montclair State). Living in Roxbury, NJ, they’d come to see their good friend Angelo Mangiro start at center for the Nittany Lions. “Evan Williams” and “Jeremiah Weed” also made guest appearances. It was a great time and a good game with a lot of memorable plays according to Mike Ford. He and Dave said they’d like to do it again and possibly see the Lions play a Big Ten opponent in the future. Mike wants to still try to figure a way he can bring down some lobsters from Rhode Island next time he joins to add to our tailgate. We convinced him this time that it would be too difficult to get a boiling pot to cook them right this time. Mike couldn’t leave after the game without finding a PSU “Happy Valley” shirt that he purchased after the game to wear back in his native Rhode Island. He remembers way back when Penn State defeated Texas in the 1971 Cotton Bowl. It made his late father very happy that a team from the east was making a mark for itself showing that a program from out here could beat the best from anywhere else.
Like PSU in the first half, San Diego State punted and PSU fumbled where the Aztec’s Luke Bussey recovered at the Lions’ 21. Donnel Pumphrey (18 carries for 56 yards, 1 TD) brought SDSU to within 27-21 on a one-yard TD run.
In the final period, Nassib’s tackle and Johnson’s rumble gave the Lions a 34-21 lead for more cushion with 13:44 remaining. The next PSU possession resulted in Jones’s 26 -yard FG to finalize the days’ scoring and neither team mounted any sustainable drives afterward. The Lions made the valley happy, 37-21.
The Lions will host their fourth of five consecutive home games when Army (1-3) off their first victory of the season this past Saturday when they defeated Eastern Michigan, 58-36. The Cadets and Lions will be playing each other for the first time since 1979 when PSU triumphed at Beaver Stadium when it had a much smaller capacity of about 60,000, 24-3. It is sold out and it will be appropriately celebrated as Military Day. The Aztecs with Super fan Tom Ables return to Qualcomm Stadium to start Mountain West Conference play against Fresno State (1-3,0-1). Collegefootballfan.com will be having a Military day of our own when we head to Annapolis, Maryland to see Air Force (2-1) visit Navy (3-0, 2-0) for the first round of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. Last season, Air Force won the hardware starting with a 30-21 win over the Mids in Colorado Springs. This should be a classic in the series. Navy QB Keenan Reynolds has nine TDS this year already. The Air Force gave No. 2 Michigan State a pretty good game two weeks ago falling, 35-21.
Extra points : Our condolences to PSU DT Anthony Zettel (7 tackles yesterday) and his family who lost their father, Terry, after a long battle with cancer. He was only 46. God bless him.
Official attendance recorded 95,107 seats sold. 15,000-20,000 of those sold were empty. Many PSU fans including students took a break for a weekend sandwiched between four other home games. Tom and I would never do that!
This was our 96th Penn State game ( our last regular season game for this year). Under our watch, the Lions are 74-22. This was our second San Diego State game. They are 0-2. We saw them lose to UTEP the first time back in 2006. Only 759 games behind Tom!