To their credit, this senior class is 20-5 over the past 25 games; 15-3 in the Big 10 and 14-0 at home. They won a Big Ten Championship, are headed to a second consecutive New Year’s six bowl game, and maintained a second straight Top 10 finish. Did I mention they are only four points away from being undefeated? Not too shabby for a class that everyone predicted would be lucky to have a winning record throughout their time in Happy Valley, let alone any kind of Championship hardware to look back on. They came. They saw. They conquered, just as Haley said. For those accomplishments and for all the memories they gave us, today’s Game Ball goes to the entire Senior Class of 2017 as a small token of appreciation.
I was half-inclined to hand the Game Ball to the announced crowd of 106K who braved Mother Nature’s fury. Considering the weather, that number, even if skewed just a little, was nothing short of outstanding and validates us as the most loyal fan base in college football. No Game Ball today, but it's certainly worthy enough to lead off our Helmet Stickers in my book and I’ve got a hunch James Franklin wouldn’t have much of an issue with it either!
On Saturday, senior linebacker Brandon Smith had a career high 13 tackles and Jason Cabinda added 7 tackles, 2 pass breakups, and a half sack to his resume. Trace McSorley once again had ice in his veins and finished with 325 yards passing, 3 touchdowns, and 46 yards on the ground. Saquon Barkley returned to Heisman form in what most likely was his last performance at home (a fact I have not overlooked but out of respect for our Senior Class will address after the season) by scoring 3 touchdowns and breaking Lydell Mitchell’s career record with 39. Mike Gesicki closed out his career at Beaver Stadium by scoring twice and topping Ted Kwalick for most yards all-time by a Penn State tight end. Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins reminded us all that there is plenty to look forward to a year from now, and last but not least, Touchdown Tommy Stevens validated his nickname by connecting with redshirt freshman Nick Bowers in the fourth quarter.
And with that, the doors close on another smashing success of a season within the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium. If nothing else can be taken from the legacy those 23 seniors leave behind, it’s the fact that over the course of the past four years, they have gradually turned home-field advantage into as lethal a weapon there is in college football today. The count now stands at 14 straight and next year the so-called ‘Gauntlet' runs through Happy Valley with The Evil Empire, Sparty, Iowa, and Wisconsin all slated for trips into the Lion’s Den. Up next though, an afternoon date with Maryland and Turtle Soup as the main course in the regular season finale. Have a great Thanksgiving, Nittany Nation!