The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

October 16, 2013

O'Brien, Lions riding high after win

STATE COLLEGE — The 108,000 Penn State fans that stuffed Beaver Stadium left with memories that will live on for years.

There was Bill Belton’s 3-yard dive on fourth-and-1 that kept alive the winning drive in the fourth overtime. And his 2-yard scamper that helped the Nittany Lions upset then-No. 18 Michigan, 43-40.

Or how about Christian Hackenberg’s 29-yard completion to Brandon Felder on the tying drive in regulation?

But no play stood out like Hackenberg’s toss to a leaping Allen Robinson in the corner that sent the wide receiver crashing down a yard from the goal line. Hackenberg sneaked in for the first rushing TD against Michigan this season, tying the game at 34-all.

Of all the thrillers, which one is stamped in coach Bill O’Brien’s memory bank?

“I don’t know,” he said Tuesday. “I’d have to really probably have to wait until the end of the year because really, our staff, our players, we’ve moved on.”

Like most coaches, O’Brien is always on to next game, even as fans and players are still basking in perhaps the program’s signature win of the post-Joe Paterno era.

With the Nittany Lions off this Saturday before heading to Ohio State, there’s even more time to relive the plays the Nittany Lions can only hope will spark them toward a winning streak, not going back to losing clunkers like they did against Indiana and UCF.

For a program still scarred by scandal, the postgame scene was one of pure jubilation. O’Brien sprinted down the field, arms raised, toward the sea of white in the south end zone. There, his team assembled in front of the adoring, screaming fans as the Blue Band prepared to play the alma mater so players and fans alike could sing along.   

“I enjoy scenes like Saturday night, in Beaver Stadium with a 108,000 fans, and the student section,” he said. “I enjoy the student body here at Penn State.”

The players who had mobbed each other on the field took the celebration to the locker room. As the players danced and hollered in joy, O’Brien gathered them together and wanted the Nittany Lions to savor the feeling.

“This is what a winning locker room feels like,” he said. “Every guy in this room is a winner! You never quit. Don’t ever forget that the rest of your lives. You guys in this room have the ability to never get down. That is a trait that not many people have.”

The four-OT thriller was the longest in 118 years of Big Ten football.

O’Brien shuffled the practice schedule because of the marathon game and the off week ahead. The Nittany Lions practiced Tuesday, and will again Wednesday and Thursday.

The Nittany Lions haven’t changed their devotion toward practicing the 2-minute drill in every practice. They ran that offense to perfection on the final drive of regulation against Michigan.

Only 18, Hackenberg has continued to shine, and stated his case as one of the top freshman in the nation. He threw three touchdown passes in the first half to stake Penn State to a 21-10 lead, then engineered the best drive of his brief career. Up ahead, his most challenging test yet.

“We head to Ohio State, and he’s playing a game in one of the most famous stadiums in the history of college football,” O’Brien said. “So that will be new for him. I think he’s improved every week, I think he’s a focused guy. I believe we just always have to continue to improve with his accuracy and his mechanics and his knowledge of the offense.”

 

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