The options for this week’s Game Ball are darn near unending. The list of nominees is LONG and anyone I choose would be worthy. With that in mind, there is one play in particular that really tugged at my soul for what it represents more than anything else. I have often referred to this team as a band of brothers and on Saturday that reference took on a whole new meaning early in the 3rd quarter. Penn State had just scored again and on the ensuing kickoff, Special Teams warrior and outgoing senior, Josh McPhearson, jarred the ball loose from the returner and the ensuing fumble was recovered by none other than his little brother, redshirt freshman Zechariah. Both coincidently grew up within a stones throw of College Park, Maryland, as did a handful of others which made it that more special. The play itself was one of multiple great ones that Penn State had on the day, but it’s significance was unrivaled as it represented a true changing of the guard and reinforced the notion that this team is much more than just a bunch of jocks playing football. This team is family and today’s Game Ball goes home with the McPhearson's.
As for Helmet Stickers, where do I even begin? Let’s start with The Wizard, Trace McSorley, or McSCorley as some have started to refer to him. He picked apart that Terrapin D like it was Thursday’s Thanksgiving turkey. His backup, Touchdown Tommy Stevens, played majority of the second-half and accounted for four touchdowns of his own. Superman Saquon had two touchdowns, as did the best tight end in the country, the one-and-only Mike Gesicki. His backup, fellow senior Tom Pancoast, collected his first touchdown as a fitting end and young buck Juwan Johnson continued to put fear in next season’s opposing defenses. While I'm at it how ‘bout that much-maligned O-Line? They absolutely man-handled the line of scrimmage.
On defense, Brandon Smith continued his role as the unsung hero, a role he has perfected over the course of the past two years. Marcus Allen, aka The Punisher, returned home and laid the smackdown on Maryland ball carriers. Grant Haley covered their wideouts like a glove and Captain Cabinda was his usual dominate self. Redshirt freshman, Shane Simmons, had a homecoming in the DMV and made life a living “you know what” in the Terp backfield. Ryan Buccholz was a pleasant surprise as he returned to action after an injury suffered on the first play in Columbus and Shareef Miller wreaked havoc on the opposite side. All-in-all, it was a D that played like they took last week’s second half scoring barrage by Nebraska (as meaningless as it was) personal and were out to prove a few naysayers wrong. Mission accomplished, and then some.
In the aftermath of that 66-3 demolition of Maryland, the emotions kicked in hot and heavy, as mentioned. Extreme pride on a job well done, sadness that it had to come to an end, and defiance to all that seem to have turned their back on our Nittany Lions. Those emotions lingered into the night and throughout the next day, with the worst of them seeming to get the better of me. Just as I got settled in to watch the Steelers on Sunday Night Football, a few familiar faces started showing up in Instagram posts. Out there on the sideline in Pittsburgh was Marcus Allen, Saquon Barkley, and Mark Allen, all three with those trademark smiles. A little digging turned up Trace McSorley, Billy Fessler, Michael Shuster and Andre Robinson as well, along with a few others. For all the angst of defiance and sadness that seemed to overwhelm, the sight of our Nittany Lions out there having fun was one to behold. They earned that moment and they earned those smiles. Their work here is (almost) done. Sure, there’s one game left to conquer, location and opponent still to be determined, but for all intent and purpose their mission was accomplished, with flying colors I might add. And a team that grew to be more like little brothers and family to us all finally took the night off to celebrate for a change.