New York — Sam Ficken was Penn State’s captain in the clutch at Yankee Stadium on Saturday night.
Ficken used Derek Jeter’s old locker, then showed No. 2 must have left behind some postseason kismet. He booted a walk-off winner deep into Monument Park, kicking the extra point that Boston College could not to give the Nittany Lions a 31-30 overtime win in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Christian Hackenberg hit Kyle Carter for a 10-yard touchdown pass that set up Ficken’s automatic kick that sent the Nittany Lions dancing on top of the Yankees’ dugout.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better ending for my career,” Ficken said.
The Nittany Lions (7-6) played in a bowl game for the first time since January 2012 after the NCAA lifted the most severe sanctions levied against the program in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Captain to captain, Ficken had the honor of using the retired Jeter’s locker and some of the five-time World Series champion shortstop’s clutch postseason play appeared to rub off.
Ficken sent the game into OT with a 45-yard field goal with 20 seconds left in regulation and won it with his extra point.
“He’s probably been our best offensive weapon all year long,” coach James Franklin said.
Tyler Murphy hit David Dudeck for a 21-yard touchdown pass on Boston College’s drive. Mike Knoll shanked the extra point for the Eagles (7-6) and that was the opening Penn State needed to complete its comeback from a 21-7 deficit late in the third quarter.
“We lost a game we didn’t need to lose,” Boston College coach Steve Addazio said.
Penn State has played under the cloud of scandal and sanctions for the most of the last four years, tearing at the fabric of the community known as Happy Valley and tarnishing the legacy of Joe Paterno.
Moments after Penn State hoisted the bowl trophy on the field, Franklin took the microphone and thanked the seniors “who stayed with this program when we needed them most.”
“I think experiences and games like this has restored the hope,” Franklin said.
The Eagles left stunned after blowing the lead and missing their eighth extra point of the season. Knoll put the Eagles ahead 24-21 on a 20-yarder with 2:10 left in the fourth.
“I just told him to keep his head up,” Murphy said. “That one PAT didn’t lose us the game.”
Ficken, who won the opener in Dublin with a 36-yard field goal as time expired, bookended the season with his biggest kick yet.
Hackenberg threw four touchdowns and played more as he did his freshman year, when he had NFL scouts raving about first-round potential rather than this season’s erratic sophomore effort. He set Penn State records for completions and yards passing (34 of 50, 371 yards) and earned MVP honors. He went over the middle and hit DaeSean Hamilton to make it 21-all with 6:48 left in the fourth.
Hackenberg should have been eligible for a potential bowl game his senior season. But when the bowl ban was lifted this season, the Nittany Lions earned the chance to play in front of 49,012 fans at Yankee Stadium.
Murphy threw for two touchdowns and ran for 105 yards and Jon Hilliman had 148 yards rushing and score that helped the Eagles build a lead.
Murphy found Shakim Phillips in the corner end zone for a 19-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead early in the third. He then showed how he set the ACC’s single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 1,079 yards in 2014 with a 40-yard dash that put the Eagles ahead 21-7.
Hilliman, who led the team with 12 rushing TDs, broke through early with a 44-yard run that gave him more yards on one carry than three teams had in a game this season against Penn State: Central Florida (24), Massachusetts (3) yards and Maryland (25). He averaged a whopping 19.2 yards-per-carry on just five attempts for 101 yards in the first half.
He found a huge opening late in the first quarter for a 49-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 7.
The Nittany Lions scored first on Hackenberg’s 72-yard TD pass to Chris Godwin down the right sideline with 5:22 left in the first.
The score earned a booming “We are! Penn State!” chant from the Penn State fans.
The Nittany Lions turned the Bronx into a miniature Happy Valley, flooding the train from Philadelphia to New York on Saturday, then overtaking the subway lines.
Once they emerged at the corner of 161st Street and River Avenue, Yankee Stadium may as well have been Beaver Stadium. Mark Holtzman, who runs non-baseball events for the New York Yankees, said tickets sold out in 36 hours, the fastest of the five Pinstripe Bowls.
“It was a football stadium tonight and an awesome one,” Franklin said.
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