The 2014 Penn State Football Season was shrouded in uncertainty. It started with four straight wins, continued with four straight losses and ultimately culminated in a 6 – 6 season followed by an amazing and very impressive bowl victory. The bulk of the extensive NCAA ban was lifted in late September of 2013, paving a path for a football program that can once again fly at full mast. Taking all this into account, the season can be seen as a success.
When James Franklin was hired to be the head coach in January 2014, he simultaneously became the first African-American to ever hold the position and a man expected to turn the storied program into a winner as soon as possible. Early returns are positive, and early-season wins against UCF, Akron, Rutgers and UMass gave the fans plenty of reasons to be excited. But the ship ran aground on the final Saturday in September when the Nittany Lions lost at home to Northwestern by 23 points, followed by losses to Michigan, Ohio State and Maryland.
The ship was righted once again with consecutive victories against Indiana and Temple, but losses at Illinois and at home against a tough Michigan State team brought their record to an even .500. Thankfully, six wins is still enough to be qualify for a bowl game in an era where teams play about a dozen times instead of the classic and traditional 10. As a result, Penn State was chosen to play in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, which has quickly become a New York City tradition. The baseball field can be converted into a football field with a few quirks and abnormalities. Nonetheless, the game sold out in a matter of hours and unfolded underneath a wintry forecast typical to the area and the time of year.
The announcers went out of their way to express that the game would be a slow-paced, grind-it-out type of affair starring the defensive units. This was true up until halftime, when the game was tied at 7, but both teams exploded with a flurry of offense in the second half, entertaining the several thousand fans in attendance and taking the game into overtime. Penn State kicker Sam Ficken was nails while banging a 45-yard field goal through the uprights with just a few seconds left in regulation.
Boston College scored a touchdown on their first possession in OT, but missed the oh-so-crucial extra point. Penn State knew exactly what they had to do in order to claim victory in front of a crowd that was noticeably in their favor. Three pinpoint Christian Hackenberg passes resulted in a game-winning touchdown, and the high-stakes extra point sailed through the uprights moments later. The Sophomore threw 34 completions in a total of 50 attempts, resulting in 371 yards and four touchdowns. The dramatic conclusion can and likely will serve as a clear indication that Penn State is primed and ready to do bigger and better things in the upcoming years.