Who do I possibly choose for the game ball after a win like that? The aforementioned Haley who brought the house to their feet, or the warrior Marcus Allen who rose above the clouds to block that field-goal? Does it go to the ferocious linebacker duo of Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda who combined for 31 tackles and two sacks in their much-anticipated return to the lineup? How about Garrett Sickels, who returned from a first-half suspension to collect two sacks of his own and make life a living hell for Heisman Trophy candidate, JT Barrett? What about tight end Mike Gesicki, who gutted out a leg or ankle injury to prove just how valuable he was to an offense that stalled without him? Or does it go to you, the White Out crowd, who proved once again just how disruptive we can be when we all work together?
No, my friends, today’s game ball is reserved for one man and one man only. The man who some have put in the “hot seat” since the beginning of the season. The man I began fondly referring to as FrankLion not long after his arrival in State College back in January 2014. The man who made the tough decision to part ways with a few members of his “family” that had been with him for years, to keep moving his team forward. The one who let his longtime defensive guru walk away to keep an up and coming defensive guru in the mix by retaining Brent Pry. The one who has asked for nothing more than patience from the very beginning, and finally brought the happy back to Happy Valley, just like he said he would. James Franklin, this game ball goes to you for being everything you said you were, and for now having that “signature win” that so many seemed to point to as some kind of character flaw. The truth is, Franklin is extremely similar to our former beloved coach in many ways. He’s a coach that clearly values education, graduation rates, and integrity far more than his thirst to win. In the immediate aftermath of the big victory he stated if he only wanted W’s, he’d be in the NFL. He’s not. He’s here in Happy Valley. He’s here to stay for the foreseeable future and we’re better off for it.
As for helmet stickers, the 24-21 victory over the Evil Empire was a total team effort. From the freshman punter Blake Gilliken, who struggled in the wind and rain but had the wherewithal to hustle into the end zone and cover up a botched snap to preserve a safety rather than give up the touchdown, to a much-maligned O-Line that graded out far higher than the opponent. From the steely-eyed Trace McSorley who has ice running through his veins no matter the deficit and no matter the opponent, to his partner in the backfield, Saquon Barkley, who still managed a yard under 100, even though the Buckeyes were keying on him every play. From the veterans Chris Godwin who climbed the ladder to give us hope just before halftime, Saeed Blacknall who made the catch of the night down in Allen Robinson territory, and DaeSean Hamilton who came through in the clutch to extend the drive. This defeat over the Evil Empire had everyone’s signature written all over it, including the scout team and practice squad that gave the starters all they could handle as they prepped for the spotlight. Today, everyone involved gets a helmet sticker.
On Sunday morning, still nursing the hangover of a euphoric high, I poured a giant glass of James Franklin Kool-Aid and smiled. It’s a smile that just won’t go away. As I basked in the afterglow of a huge victory, I couldn’t help but to reminisce and found myself standing on the bleachers in Charlottesville, Virginia as I watched Sam Ficken miss the game winning field goal in the driving rain. One of four he missed that early September day in 2012. Ironically, as I made the long wet walk back to my truck, alone in my thoughts, a sense of calm overwhelmed me. Despite the loss, we played with the heart of Lions. I knew then, at that very moment, that Penn State was not dead like so many had predicted and was not going away without a fight. Four winning seasons later and one massive upset for the ages has finally justified that thought. WE ARE alright, my friends, and I have a sneaky suspicion that the fun is just getting started!