Penn State’s Oruwariye seals an OT win over Appalachian State in a back and forth thriller
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State Nittany Lions (1-0) kicked off their 132nd season of football in an afternoon tilt with the Appalachian State Mountaineers (0-1) at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
In a game of halves, Penn State dominated the first, Appalachian State dominated the second and the two teams came out even at the end of regulation.
In overtime, junior running back Miles Sanders carried the load for the Nittany Lions offense, and senior cornerback Amani Oruwariye finished it on defense with a game-sealing interception. Penn State was able to overcome 28 fourth quarter points from the Mountaineers and win its season opener 45-38 in overtime.
“I don’t know what’s in the water in Boone, North Carolina, but they’ve been doing this for a long time to whoever they play,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said. “It’s hard talking to a coach after a game like that . . . I said ‘I know you don’t want to hear this right now but you guys are doing an unbelievable job.’”
The Nittany Lions got off to a hot start and drove right down the field in 12 plays for a touchdown, capped off by a 12-yard rush by senior quarterback Trace McSorley.
The Mountaineers took no time responding, as sophomore running back Darrynton Evans returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to tie it right back up at seven with 11:48 to go in the first quarter.
“This [game] is going to make us be way more mature than we are,” Sanders said. “For us to be going into overtime in our first game and getting a W and going hard when it counts, it shows a lot about the team.”
Appalachian State drove back down the field, but stalled just short of the red zone and had to settle for a 38-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Chandler Staton and took a 10-7 lead to the end of the first quarter. Offense started to stall in the second quarter, as six consecutive drives between the two teams went scoreless.
“I thought our offense looked really good at sometimes, and then at other times we looked we just looked like a young team,” Franklin said.
Only freshman kicker Jake Pinegar was able to put points on the board in the second quarter with a 31-yard field goal to tie the score at 10 as both teams headed to the locker rooms.
Penn State came out hot in the second half, forcing a quick three and out on defense then taking their first drive 65 yards for a touchdown. McSorley found the end zone for the second time in the afternoon, this time from 10 yards out.
Many freshmen made an impact in this opening game for Penn State, but the first to put points on the board was freshman running back Ricky Slade. The Virginia native parted the offensive line and was able to put away his first career touchdown on a 27-yard carry.
“The lights weren’t too big for [Slade], he went in there and was poised,” Sanders said.
Appalachian State sophomore quarterback Zac Thomas had to leave early in the fourth quarter with an injury, but he came back in after one play and was able to drop a dime to sophomore wide receiver Malik Williams to bring the score back to a one possession game. The 17-yard touchdown pass made the score 24-17 in favor of Penn State.
The Nittany Lions were quick to respond, however, as the offense took six plays to go 75 yards to the house, which was capped off by a two yard touchdown rush by Sanders to give Penn State a 31-17 advantage with just over 11 minutes to go in the game.
The Mountaineers did not go away, as they continued to grind out first downs and hit a 24-yard touchdown from Thomas to Williams. This marked the combo’s second connection of the game. Just like that, it was another seven point lead for Penn State, 31-24.
The Mountaineers rolled the dice with an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff and it paid off. Thomas’ offense retook the field with just under eight minutes to go and a chance to tie the game. Appalachian State was able to quickly strike for a touchdown, with Thomas rushing it in from one yard out, and the game was tied again at 31 with six minutes to go.
After three three and outs by both teams, the Mountaineers took over in Penn State territory at the 42 yard line. Appalachian State senior running back Jalin Moore took full advantage, and scrambled into the end zone from 16 yards out to give the Mountaineers the lead back with 1:47 to go in regulation.
Sophomore wide receiver KJ Hamler started off Penn State’s possession with a huge return to midfield to kick start the offense. After big chunk plays to get in the red zone, Hamler was able to finish it as well. McSorley connected on a 15-yard pass with him to tie the game right back up at 38 with only 42 seconds remaining in the game.
“We’ve had a lot of belief in KJ for a long time, and this is really the first football game he’s played in two years,” Franklin said.
Appalachian State had one final chance to take the lead in regulation, but had to settle for a 56-yard field goal attempt from Staton, which missed wide right.
With only 15 seconds remaining following the missed field goal, McSorley took one shot to gain yardage that fell incomplete, then a knee to send the game to overtime tied at 38.
Penn State received the ball first in overtime, and it was all Sanders. He had all four carries for all of the 25 yards needed to score the go-ahead touchdown to put the Nittany Lions up 45-38.
“The O-Line was blocking real hard the whole game, and they’ve been blocking well when it counts,” Sanders said. “We didn’t get nervous at all, we just knew that was a great opponent across from us.”
With a chance to extend the game into a second overtime, Moore gained two key first downs to put the Mountaineers in position to do just that. However, coming out of a timeout, Oruwariye rose the ladder to intercept Thomas in the end zone and seal the 45-38 win for the Nittany Lions.
“This is going to be a critical win for us, and all wins are different, and all wins aren’t created equal,” Franklin said.
The Nittany Lions hit the road next week for their in-state rivalry with the Pitt Panthers in primetime while the Mountaineers visit the North Carolina-Charlotte 49ers’ before heading back home to play Southern Miss.
Joe Skinner is a sophomore broadcast journalism major. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.