Game Balls and Helmet Stickers: Battle in the 'Burgh
Without DaeSean Hamilton, we would have never been in the position we were at the end. He will bounce back and continue to make an impact. Mark it down, put a stamp on it, and hand that young man the Game Ball while you’re at it. I didn’t choose him out of sympathy. I chose him because he played like a beast on Saturday and did everything in his power to give us a shot to win. I chose him because somewhere down the line his hard work and effort will have a huge hand in bringing us the victory that alluded the Lions this past weekend. Bank on it.
With that out of the way, let me state unequivocally that there are no moral victories when it comes to a Pitt loss. Pitt is a rival and they took this game in rivalry-fashion. They officially rule the roost in the state of Pennsylvania, with a little argument coming from Temple I suppose. It hurts, it stings, it pains me to say it, but it’s a fact. They came out juiced, jacked up, and punched us in the face. Several times. They had us on the brink of embarrassment. Several times. To call it ugly is an understatement. It was brutal. Down 28-7 with little left to go in the first half, Penn State was left for dead. Most teams would have packed it up and called it a day. We did not.
A last minute Saquon Barkley touchdown, one of five on the day for the sophomore sensation, managed to send us into halftime with a slight glimmer of hope. Whatever happened inside that locker room most likely tamed the “hot seat” that head coach James Franklin was sitting on. Say what you want about him, but they made some impeccable adjustments at the half and it almost worked. For the second time in the two and a half games he has led this offense, including the bowl game, Trace McSorley led his team back from the edge of disaster. It’s beginning to be a pattern for the redshirt sophomore. His poise and calm in the throes of defeat simply do not allow the Nittany Lions to ever truly be out of the contest. Pick apart and debate his final pass all you want, but without McSorley at the helm, this one would not have been anywhere close to the three-point loss it ended up being.
Credit John Reid for his instincts on defense and his speed as our anointed punt returner. Credit DeAndre Hopkins for filling in for an injured Saeed Blacknall and making a statement that all the hype surrounding his arrival was worth it. Not to mention that highlight reel one-handed catch at the goal line to give us yet another sign of life. Credit Mike Gesicki for continuing his road to redemption with another stellar performance. In fact, it was more than evident that they had game-planned against him and were scared of what kind of damage he could do. Credit, once again, that freshman punter from Georgia, Blake Gilliken, for proving that week one was no fluke and, as bad as they got shredded in the first half, credit our defense for overcoming surmountable odds in the second half and giving Penn State a fighting chance. Under normal circumstances, this collection would have been our Helmet Sticker recipients, but a loss is a loss, and there are no moral victories when you lose to Pitt.
All that being said, this squad showed us something on Saturday, despite the sting of losing to an in-state rival. They showed fight, they showed fortitude, they showed resilience, and they showed grit. They showed their lion hearts until the bitter end. Most teams would have packed it up and been excused for doing so. Most would have thrown up the white flag. The Nittany Lions did not. No my friends, the Nittany Lions took it on the chin and came back for more. In the end, they went for blood and lost with the last of four turnovers on the day. They may have lost the game, but they gained respect in the process. Again, there are no moral victories when you lose to Pitt, but respect just might be what this band of brothers needs to move forward.