Rutgers Big Ten Debut Ends in Agony
In an electric atmosphere, with a record crowd of 53,774 fans in attendance at High Point Solutions stadium, Rutgers had hopes of starting their inaugural Big Ten Conference game with a victory but instead it ended in a 13- 10 defeat at the hands of the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Rutgers fans watched in silence, disbelief, and disappointment. Fans praying for a miracle on the final fourth and 12 possession for the Scarlet Knights instantly headed to the exits, with quarterback Gary Nova’s interception confirming a Rutgers loss.
The interception knocking the wind out of the stadium, a stunned silence ensued but the banter of the Penn State fans could be heard. “WE ARE…. PENN STATE,” fans screamed.
“We’re a really hurting team right now,” Head Coach Kyle Flood said at his post-game press conference. “You play a close game against a good football team and you win at the end like we did in the first game, there’s exuberance, and then you play a close game and you don’t win, and it’s devastating. And it’s probably a good word I can use for our team right now.”
Rutgers had held firmly to a 10-6 lead through the first 57 minutes of the game with the Scarlet Knight defense dominating the Nittany Lions offense, especially the offensive line, with Penn State’s NFL bound quarterback being sacked five times.
But even with the stout defensive play, Rutgers offense crumbled in the second half, gaining only three first downs. The defense continued to hold firm, twice, forcing Penn State to converted field goals, while Lorenzo Waters also intercepted a Hackenberg pass, which Nova returned to Penn State on the next play.
But with 3:02 left to play, after another three and out for the Rutgers offense, the “team from Pennsylvania”, as Coach Flood referred to them all week in hopes of igniting a rivalry, took over.
The poised Hackenberg lead his team on a six-play game-winning drive. He connected on a 53-yard pass with wide receiver, Geno Lewis, who the solid pass defense failed to tackle. Five plays later that “team from the west” scored a touchdown on a Bill Belton 5 yard run, capping the 80 yard drive.
Nova ended the game with a stat line of 15 of 30 for 192 yards, no touchdowns, and five interceptions. Although he did look sharp at times, including a 14 yard scramble, spinning into the end zone for six points.
The Big Ten debut for Rutgers, which stirred so much excitement throughout the state, almost ended in a victory but the gut-wrenching loss only left doubt.