Lions pull out thrilling overtime bowl victory in Bronx

NEW YORK – Of all the people to make the catch – the TD grab that sent Penn State into the offseason with tons of positive vibes and optimism for the future – it’s incredibly ironic that Kyle Carter was the guy.

The tight end dropped seemingly everything all season.

Not this time.

“There’s no better way for me to end the season,” Carter said after his 10-yard TD grab in overtime of the Pinstripe Bowl.

Carter caught Christian Hackenberg’s fourth TD pass of the game, and because Boston College had shanked the PAT try after its TD in overtime, only one small formality stood in the way of a Penn State victory.

Sam Ficken came on and booted the extra point through the uprights, igniting an on-field celebration as the Nittany Lions came away with a 31-30 victory before 49,012 fans at Yankee Stadium.

Penn State (7-6) not only rallied from a 21-7 third-quarter deficit, it also charged right back in the final 2:10 of regulation after Boston College had taken a 24-21 lead. The Lions moved down the field to the Eagles’ 27, and Ficken kicked a 45-yard field goal to force overtime.

“I knew Ficken was going to come through,” PSU linebacker Mike Hull said. “He’s been money all year long.”

The free football on this night wasn’t quite as bizarre as the 2006 Orange Bowl against Florida State, when both teams traded botched kicks in a game that went three overtimes. But Saturday’s overtime did include one very costly kicking mistake.

Boston College (7-6) got the ball first and faced third-and-6 from the 21. The Eagles ran for 289 yards and threw for only 97, but BC quarterback Tyler Murphy made some big plays with his arm when he had to.

On the third-down play, Murphy fired a bullet to David Dudeck for the first-down yardage, then the receiver broke a tackle and scampered into the end zone.

The best Penn State could hope for would be to score a TD and force a second overtime. Right?

Ummm, not exactly.

Boston College’s Mike Knoll kicked one of the ugliest extra points you’ll see, with the left-footer shanking it straight right and missing badly to leave the score 30-24.

Penn State started its OT possession on a bad note as left tackle Donovan Smith was flagged for a false start. Hackenberg threw two incompletions, and the Lions faced third-and-15 from the 30.

That’s when it became tight end time.

Hackenberg connected with Jesse James along the left sideline, and the big guy rumbled forward for a 17-yard gain to the 13.

Akeel Lynch was dropped for a 2-yard loss on the next play, and Hackenberg hit Geno Lewis for 2 yards to set up third-and-7 from the 10.

There’s a notion in football that a quarterback can lose faith in a receiver who drops a lot of passes. Carter certainly did that during the regular season, dropping at least 10 balls while catching only 13.

Some of his drops were on rather difficult plays, but they were the kind of throws that the 6-foot-3 target who caught 36 passes two years ago as a true freshman certainly should have made.

“Everybody knows it was a tough season,” Carter said.

The Lions called for a play that had Carter faking like he would be blocking for a screen pass, then springing free as the primary target. The tight end was open in the end zone, BC defender Ty-Meer Brown was to the inside and Hackenberg threw the ball to the outside.

Carter pulled it in with ease, giving him the kind of finish that he called “icing on the cake for me.”

“That was awesome for Kyle,” Hackenberg said. “It was great for me to be able to see Kyle do that.”

“It’s awesome seeing Kyle succeed,” James said. “He’s done a great job, he’s worked his (butt) off since he’s been here, and it’s great for him to have that closing touchdown.”

Coach James Franklin said he “wouldn’t trade that catch for 20 other catches throughout the season” from Carter.

“I’m really happy for him,” Franklin said before later adding, “He’s an example of how things aren’t always going to go exactly how you expect them to go.”

For the most part, Saturday’s game went about as expected. Boston College ran the ball well, as it has against just about everybody this season, and the Penn State offense bogged down several times with key mistakes, including two fumbles by Hackenberg deep in BC territory.

The Eagles took a 21-7 lead when Murphy scored on a 40-yard run with 2:12 left in the third quarter. That was Boston College’s third run of at least 40 yards in the game, the other two coming from Jon Hilliman (44 and 49 yards).

Just as it seemed Penn State was heading toward a loss, the offense got hot, and one huge play made a world of difference.

On their next possession, the Lions faced third-and-9 from their 38 when Hackenberg, who threw for a PSU-bowl record 371 yards, hit Geno Lewis for a 32-yard gain. A face mask penalty on defender Dominique Williams added 15 more yards, setting up the Lions at the BC 15.

On third-and-2 from the 7, Hackenberg threw Lewis’ way again. The ball was tipped by Justin Simmons in coverage and dropped nicely into Lewis’ hands for the score.

Boston College was pinned deep on its next two series and went three-and-out, and the Lions started a drive at their 45 with 8:32 left. Lynch busted free for a 35-yard gain down to the 1, but on the next play, offensive lineman Brian Gaia was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a late hit.

That backed PSU up to the 16, but it didn’t matter as Hackenberg threaded the needle to DaeSean Hamilton, whose TD grab tied it at 21 with 6:48 left in regulation.

“It was kind of a see-saw, back-and-forth kind of a game that went on, and obviously that’s why it ended up in overtime,” BC coach Steve Addazio said.

When it got to overtime, Penn State had all the momentum after its rally and was in good position to pick up the victory. The way it happened, though, with a missed PAT and a player who had struggled all season making the game-winning TD catch, was bizarre, to say the least.

“We all knew that we were 6-6 and wanted to finish the season on the winning side of it,” Carter said.

And to get it done in such dramatic fashion in the final game of the season?

“That’s definitely a great feeling,” Carter said.