I'm somebody who thinks crying at sports is a bit much unless we're talking Remember the Titans, and even I found myself welling up with joy and relief and awe and disbelief.
I've written before about wins that feel like losses and losses that feel like wins. This win feels like the bucket of ice and water poured over my head. It's supposed to be a celebration but it sure took my breath away.
I still can’t even. Some ESPN commentator gave a pregame prediction to the effect of, well I guess I have to pick Penn State but just barely. I scoffed but I shouldn't have because Iowa brought everything. We knew they would but it was still somehow surprising. Shocking.
Looking at the stats, it’s hard to believe the score. We’re one of only two teams in the country who hasn’t allowed points in the first quarter. Barkley set a school record with his 358 all-purpose yards. McSorley’s 41st touchdown pass puts him at a tie for fourth in school history. Gesicki has a reception in each of the last 18 games. Shareef Miller, wearing #19 to honor his injured teammate, tackled for our second safety this season. Blake Gillikin had three punts inside the ten. And Juwan Johnson made his first career touchdown unforgettable.
The walk off touchdown play was unbelievable. As in, did my eyes actually just see that happen? Is Juwan Johnson actually holding the ball in the end zone right now?
As far as I can find, the last time and maybe the only other time Penn State won with a touchdown as time expired was against Lafayette in 1929, though we’ve certainly had our fair share of last second losses in recent memory. I’ve seen some comparisons to the ill-fated 2005 Michigan game, but I refuse to accept them. Yes, they were both last second touchdowns to win the game, however as we all remember, the last seconds Michigan used to score their touchdown were stolen by their ref-lobbying coach. We had already stopped Michigan and they should not have had the time to score, while in this Iowa game there was no resetting the clock. It was our time.
Despite the difficulty in pulling out the win against Iowa, I still can’t help feeling that this season is finally our time.
I went into Chipotle on Sunday because they were giving half of the proceeds to Thon and the atmosphere was amazing. The place was jam packed with Penn Staters and the employees were in the spirit too. I saw tons of canners while out and about as well. Short of actually being in State College, where you don’t have to explain to the couple behind you “what’s with all the Penn State shirts”, I was immersed in Nittany Lion energy. Something about this season is very different.
We have proven our ability to make big plays and to methodically grind out clock-eating drives. We’ve also shown in costly penalties, turnovers, missed field goals and other mistakes that we still have a lot to work on.
So, what is it that made the final difference in this game? Did the stars align in our favor?
This win wasn’t guaranteed. It was fought for until the very last second. As Coach Franklin said as he walked off the field, “our team believes.” It’s not just that this team has skills. It has heart.
We believe in the superhuman abilities of Saquon Barkley and in his humility and integrity. We believe in the poise, confidence, and playmaking skills of Trace McSorley and in his understanding that each of his victories are the result of a team effort. We believe in the athleticism of Mike Gesicki, Shareef Miller, Blake Gillikin, Juwan Johnson, Marcus Allen, Grant Haley, and all the other unsung players showing up every day to do their jobs on the field and we believe in their ability to represent Penn State as student athletes, loyal and true.
This team has the makings of one of the best we’ve ever fielded. I can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.