Penn State dominated the first half of the inaugural Croke Park Classic, but it let UCF hang around. It almost doomed the Nittany Lions, but senior kicker Sam Ficken came through in the clutch when it mattered most.
Ficken drilled a game-winning 36-yard field goal as time expired to give Penn State a dramatic 26-24 win over the Knights in Dublin, Ireland. It was Ficken’s fourth field goal of the day and it ensured that James Franklin’s first game as Penn State head coach was victorious.
Ficken’s kick capped off a drive that started with just 1:13 to go after UCF took a 24-23 lead on a 6-yard touchdown run by Knights quarterback Justin Holman, who came on in relief of struggling starter Pete DiNovo. The Penn State offense, led by sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg, was able to move its way up the field on a seven-play drive to set up Ficken’s heroics.
Hackenberg became the first Penn State quarterback to throw for over 400 yards in a game, racking up 457 yards and a touchdown on 32-of-47 passing attempts. Most of those passes were directed to sophomore Geno Lewis or redshirt freshman DaeSean Hamilton. Hamilton, in his first ever collegiate game, came up huge with 11 catches for 165 yards.
Lewis caught eight passes for 173 yards, including a 79-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Lewis also made an acrobatic catch for a 41-yard gain late in the fourth to give Hackenberg the school’s single-game passing record.
UCF was held to just 35 yards of total offense in the first half, but managed to keep the deficit to just seven points at halftime. After another DiNovo (3/8, 18 yards) drive fell flat to open the second half, head coach George O’Leary then inserted Holman into the ballgame midway through the third quarter and he immediately provided a spark.
Holman’s first drive resulted in a score. His second drive did, too. A few Penn State turnovers followed and when the Knights took over again down six with 3:30 to go, Holman, who finished 9-of-14 for 204 yards, led an eight-play, 75-yard drive in just 2:17 to give UCF a 24-23 lead.
Unfortunately for Holman, the Knights’ defense could not hold the lead.
If it's any consolation for UCF, I think we know who’ll be under center for the Knights in two weeks against Missouri now.
For more Penn State news, visit BlueWhiteIllustrated.com.
For more UCF news, visit UCFSports.com.
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