Penn State rallies to down Michigan in 4OTs
By Chris Adamski
Published: Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, 9:36 p.m.
UNIVERSITY PARK — Bill O'Brien had just about seen it all through a coaching and playing career that stretches more than a quarter century.
Until Saturday night at Beaver Stadium.
“I've never been in a game like this,” the Penn State coach said. “This was a first for me.”
No one in the 127-season history of the Nittany Lions' program had been part of a game quite like their 43-40 victory against Michigan. None of the 1,200-plus games the Wolverines had played were quite like this one, either.
Bill Belton had a 2-yard touchdown run on Penn State's fourth possession of overtime, and the Lions' overcame a double-digit, fourth-quarter deficit to defeat No. 18 Michigan, 43-40 at soldout Beaver Stadium on Saturday in the first quadruple-overtime game either school played.
“It's a big win for us. It means a lot,” O'Brien said after Penn State bounced back from its first-ever loss to Indiana last week. “We beat a really good Michigan team that'd been 5-0, and we were 3-2 coming off a bad loss. I think it says a lot about these kids and a lot about the coaching staff.”
The winning score followed a pass-interference call in the end zone on the Wolverines' Jarrod Wilson on third-and-8 from the 11-yard line. Three plays earlier, Belton gained 3 yards on a gutsy fourth-and-inches call by O'Brien.
“I knew I was going to get the yard,” Belton said. “I went into it, ‘If I don't get the yard, I'm gonna hear it the rest of the time I'm here. So I'm gonna get the yard.' ”
Penn State forced overtime by driving 80 yards in five plays and 23 seconds for the tying touchdown, a 1-yard Christian Hackenberg dive over the right side of the Lions' offensive line. The play was set up by a leaping Allen Robinson 36-yard catch on which he landed just in bounds and inside the 1.
Hackenberg, a freshman, had two interceptions but also threw for 305 yards and three touchdowns for Penn State (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten), which beat Michigan for the fourth consecutive time and won its third consecutive homecoming game.
Devin Gardner had 121 rushing yards and three passing touchdowns — two to tight end Devin Funchess — for Michigan (5-1, 1-1), which hasn't beaten the Lions since 2006. Gardner, the Wolverines' dual-threat quarterback, threw two interceptions and lost a fumble during the first half but also threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Gallon in the third quarter.
Gardner's 10-yard run on third-and-7 from Penn State's 38 with 3:13 left in regulation appeared to all but end the game, but the Lions' defense held and forced a punt to put their offense in position to drive for the tying touchdown.
Video replay officials reviewed — and upheld — Robinson's catch and Hackenberg's score in which he just extended the ball over the plane of the goal line for his first career rushing touchdown and the first rushing touchdown Michigan has allowed this season. Earlier in that possession, video review also credited Robinson with a catch that on-field officials initially ruled out of bounds.
“In a lot of situations, God was on our side today,” Robinson said. “We were able to make some plays down the stretch to keep ourselves alive.”
Michigan then went 30 yards in three plays to give Gibbons a chance to win it with a 52-yard field goal with two seconds left, but the try fell short.
Both teams had unsuccessful 40-yard field-goal attempts after netting just 2 yards on their respective first possessions of overtime. During the second overtime, Gibbons hit from 25 yards and Ficken from 36 to force another overtime and extend the game into its fourth hour. Robinson fumbled an end-around on Penn State's first play of the third overtime, but Gibbons missed a 33-yard kick that would have ended it.
Gibbons made a 40-yarder to cap Michigan's possession in the fourth overtime.
The Lions' sputtering run game continued a trend of failing to gain traction, totaling 85 yards on 44 carries — but a steady dose of Belton during the final possession won the game for Penn State. Belton was given the ball on six of the Lions' seven official (non-penalty) plays of what was the final overtime, gaining 16 yards.
Belton was chosen over Zach Zwinak, perhaps because Zwinak's fumble on the first play from scrimmage in the second half was returned 24 yards by Frank Clark for a touchdown that sapped the momentum from the Lions and their overflow “whiteout” crowd of 107,844 that had been rocking throughout much of the first half.
Penn State built a 21-10 halftime lead, but Michigan outscored the Lions, 24-3, from the start of the third quarter until a Ficken 43-yard field goal with 6:35 left. Included in that run was the second long touchdown catch of the game for Devin Funchess.
After a 59-yard touchdown off a broken coverage midway through the first quarter, Funchess was hit in stride streaking down the middle of the end zone 3:25 into the fourth quarter to give Michigan a 10-point lead.
That came about a minute and a half after Ficken missed a 47-yard field goal wide left that would have tied the game at 27-27.
After sitting out the Indiana game because of an ankle injury, receiver Brandon Felder had two touchdown receptions among his six catches for 97 yards. South Allegheny graduate Jesse James had a career-high six receptions, including a 20-yard touchdown from Hackenberg in the second quarter.
Unlike in Penn State's previous two defeats this season in which the defense allowed an average of 496.5 yards, the Lions weren't gashed by the Gardner-led Michigan offense. The Wolverines had 373 net yards.
“I don't think you can say enough about our defense,” O'Brien said. “They just kept coming up big and played well overall. They gave up some big plays but came up with plays when they needed to.”
Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.
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