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Ficken’s kick gives Lions the win in Ireland

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Sam Ficken kicked a 36-yard field goal as time expired to lift Penn State over Central Florida 26-24 in Ireland on Saturday morning.

As the final seconds ticked down and Penn State scrambled to get into Sam Ficken’s field goal range, scenes of the kicker’s missed field goals two years ago against Virginia probably ran through the minds of many fans.

But, with all the confidence in the world and maybe the “luck of the Irish” on his side, Ficken stepped up and booted a 36-yard field goal through the uprights to give the Nittany Lions (1-0) a 26-24 win over Central Florida (0-1) on Saturday at Croke Park in Dublin, Ireland.

His coach James Franklin told the Croke Park media he was happy for Ficken, praising the work the kicker put in during the spring.

“[Ficken] has had an interesting career,” Franklin said. “He really has...But it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” 

After the Knights rallied from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to take a 24-23 lead over the Lions, it fell to Christian Hackenberg to lead his team down the field with 1:08 remaining on the clock.

The sophomore quarterback did just that, completing four-of-six passes for 47 yards and rushing for a first down to give Ficken a chance to win the game with three seconds remaining.

“We were a team that I would say struggled at [two minute drill] when we first put it in in the spring,” Hackenberg said. “I feel like as camp went on the team really started to buy into it...Today, the guys went out and they wanted it, they made plays when they needed to make plays.”

The drive was part of a record day for Hackenberg, who threw for 454 yards in the air, eclipsing Zach Mills’ record of 399 for the single game passing record at Penn State. The performance also included a 79 yard pitch-and-catch to Geno Lewis in the third quarter for the teams’ only passing touchdown of the day.

“It’s a testament to a lot of pieces to that puzzle,” Hackenberg said. “The offensive line I think had a very good game. The defense got a lot thrown at them at the end of the game and they held strong and the receivers came out.”

On the flip side, Hackenberg also had two interceptions, including one in the fourth quarter during the Knights comeback.

Lewis hauled in eight passes for 173 yards and a touchdown on the day, including a pass that was seemingly broken up by a Knights defensive back, before the reciever pulled down the tipped ball for a 41-yard-gain.

DaeSean Hamilton also had a big day for the Lions with 11 catches for 165 yards — setting the freshman record for yards and catches in a game — while tight end Jesse James grabbed seven passes for 60 yards.

On the ground, the Lions were less successful, as the team gained a total of 86 yards on the day.

Zach Zwinak led the rushers with 36 yards on 12 carries and scored the opening touchdown of the game in the first quarter, while Bill Belton had 10 carries, good for 24 yards.

Although the Lions’ run game may not have been spectacular, it eclipsed the Knights rushing attack thanks to a stout defensive front.

Anthony Zettel had six tackles and a sack on the day to lead the Lions’ defensive line and helped to hold the Knights and their running back Dontravious Wilson to just 51 yards on the ground.

“Our defense from the beginning of the game to the end did a great job of stopping the run,” Franklin said. “Zettel, the boys, [defensive coordinator Bob Shoop] in the way he called it.”

Two of the Knights touchdowns came on short rushes by quarterback Justin Holman, who came in during the third quarter to replace starter Pete DiNovo.

Holman finished the game with 204 yards and one touchdown pass to Josh Reese, to pull the Knights out of a 20-10 hole in the second half, but the team left too much time for Hackenberg and Ficken.

DiNovo completed three passes for 18 yards on the day before he came out of the game, while J.J. Worton also had five catches for 83 yards in the contest.

Franklin said a win like Saturday’s can do a lot of good things for his young team.

“You’re really on the road,” Franklin said. “We were the away team, we had penalties, we  had turnovers, we weren’t always perfect, but we found a way to win. That ingredient is what people are searching for all the time.”


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