PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Penn State ripped out Rutgers' heart in its Big Ten Conference debut. No, it wasn't one-side thrashing. It was worse. A last-minute drive and score that stole what might have been one of the biggest moments in the Rutgers' history.
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Penn State ripped out Rutgers' heart in its Big Ten Conference debut.
No, it wasn't one-side thrashing. It was worse. A last-minute drive and score that stole what might have been one of the biggest moments in the Rutgers' history.
Bill Belton scored on a 5-yard run with 1:13 to play and Penn State rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit to post a 13-10 victory Saturday night before a Scarlet Knights' record crowd.
"They been chirping all week in the media, so they asked for a big-time game and they got one," said Belton, a New Jersey native who earlier this summer said he went to Penn State instead of Rutgers because he wanted to play big-time football.
For most of the night, Penn State looked like it would be Rutgers' first Big Ten victim.
It all changed with one final drive that started with 3:02 to play.
Christian Hackenberg orchestrated the game-winning, six-play, 80-yard blitz with passes of 53 and 23 yards to Geno Lewis.
"You got to do it," said Hackenberg, who was 25 of 44 for 309 yards. "It's one of the things that comes with being the guy. Throwing the ball and being the quarterback, you got to be able to keep your composure, sort of be the rock for these guys."
The drive was ignited by a pass along the sideline in front of the Penn State bench. Rutgers defenders Gareef Glashen and Delon Stephenson allowed Lewis to catch a ball between them and he broke free for an extra 25 yards to the Rutgers 27.
Penn State appeared to take the lead on a third-down, 20-yard TD pass to tight end Jesse James with 2:05 left but the score was nullified by a holding penalty.
Hackenberg hit Lewis along the left sideline for 23 yards and a first down to the 6-yard line. Belton gained a yard on first down and scored on a draw on second.
"That's what he does," Belton said of Hackenberg. "That's what makes him great. He made some great throws on that drive and Geno made some great catches as well."
Sam Ficken had kicked field goals of 32 and 25 yards earlier in the half and the Nittany Lions defense intercepted Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova five times.
Nova scrambled 14 yards for a touchdown and Kyle Federico added a 32-yard field goal for Rutgers (2-1, 0-1), whose conference debut brought a record 53,774 fans to High Point Solutions Stadium.
There was a buzz about Rutgers' first game in the Big Ten, with many wondering whether the Scarlet Knights would be able to compete in an elite league.
In this game, they did and they probably would have won not for the turnovers and the inability of its offense to do anything against Penn State in the second half.
"We're a hurting team right now," said Rutgers coach Kyle Flood, who was given a two-year contract extension earlier this week. "You play a close game against a good football team and you win at the end like we did in the first game (Washington State) and there is exuberance, and then you play a close game and you don't win, and it's devastating. And it's probably as good a word as I can use for our team now."
Rutgers was limited to three first downs and that was enough to allow Hackenberg to rally Penn State in the game between Pennsylvania and New Jersey neighbors.
Hackenberg led scoring drives of 72 and 68 yards against a valiant Rutgers' defense that had allowed an average of 31.5 points in its first two games.
Rutgers has led the nation in blocking kicks since 2009 and it picked up two more against Penn State in the first half.
Kemoko Turay had the big block, leaping high to deflect Ficken's 34-yard attempt that was set up by an Adrian Amos interception at the Scarlet Knights 29.
Nova started the ensuing 10-play, 80-yard drive with a 17-yard pass to Leonte Carroo and capped it with a 14-yard touchdown scramble up the middle after avoiding a blitz and getting a block from halfback Paul James.
Rutgers stretched the lead to 10-0 with a 14-play,78-yard drive that Nova kept alive with third-down passes of 19 yards to Carroo early and 21 to Janarion Grant. Federico converted from 32 yards with :12 left in the half.
The win capped a good week for Penn State. Its football program got out from under the most severe on-field sanctions imposed on it two years ago over the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal, learning the NCAA will allow it to compete in this year's postseason and that all scholarships will return in 2015.