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‘The Catch’ in 2013 game led to incredible 4OT win

I still can’t believe the pass. I still can’t believe the catch. I still can’t believe the comeback.

What Penn State pulled off in a magical 23-second span against Michigan in 2013 was then and still today remains unbelievable.

Aside from the program-changing blocked field goal victory over Ohio State in 2016, the greatest Penn State win I’ve covered since starting on the beat in 2006 was the four-overtime classic against the Wolverines before a whiteout crowd in 2013.

The Nittany Lions trailed, 34-27, and had the ball at their own 20 with 50 seconds left. A mere 23 seconds later, the game was tied, thanks to an incredible comeback led by Christian Hackenberg and Allen Robinson.

First there was a 15-yard pass to Robinson. Then PSU got lucky when a pass that looked like it would be picked off instead deflected to Brandon Felder for a 27-yard gain to the Michigan 38. Then came “The Catch.” One of the greatest plays in Penn State history.

Hackenberg lofted a phenomenal pass down the left sideline. Robinson made a remarkable catch, high-pointing the ball over a Michigan defender inside the 1-yard line. We’ve all seen replays of that sensational throw and catch dozens of times over the years.

Hackenberg scored on the next play, and the game was tied, 34-34. The overtimes weren’t as dramatic, and Bill Belton scored the winning touchdown from the 2 in the fourth overtime for a 43-40 win.

What. A. Game.

The Lions finished that season just 7-5, so the win over Michigan didn’t have championship consequences or anything. But that win, with PSU still regrouping as a program after the Sandusky scandal, provided the kind of magic that Lion faithful needed to see in order to believe that there could, someday, be a return to national prominence.

One other thing about that amazing play: We knew at the time that Robinson was an excellent receiver. But as time has gone by and context added — including Hackenberg’s struggles playing without him — it’s clear to me that Robinson was the greatest receiver the Lions have ever had while in college.

In terms of importance, it’s hard to find a bigger PSU win over Michigan than 1994. The No. 3 Lions, who had just joined the Big Ten a year earlier and lost at home to the Wolverines in ’93, went to The Big House in ’94 and beat No. 5 Michigan, 31-24, on their way to an undefeated season.

Kerry Collins hit Bobby Engram for a 16-yard TD pass with 2:53 remaining for the lead, and PSU held on for one of its biggest wins since the 1986 national championship game.

One other game I’d like to mention came in 2016. Michigan destroyed PSU, 49-10, and afterward, many people were wondering if James Franklin’s job was in jeopardy.

Everything went wrong that day in Ann Arbor for a depleted Lions team. But I’m a big believer that champions have to learn to overcome adversity, and in that regard, Penn State faced enormous adversity during and after that 2016 blowout.

The loss itself didn’t provide good memories. But in a strange way, that brutal defeat played a role in paving the way to so many good memories that followed for PSU the remainder of that 2016 Big Ten title season and beyond.

Cory Giger can be reached at cgiger@altoonamirror.com.

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