There were patches of empty seats, especially behind the home plate end zone, but the fifth New Era Pinstripe Bowl was a success because the name value of traditional Eastern powers Penn State and Boston College was enough despite mediocre records to attract a bowl-record sellout crowd of 49,012 on a relatively balmy Saturday evening at Yankee Stadium.
Records hardly mattered to a roaring crowd that saw Penn State overcome a 14-point third-quarter deficit to tie and a three-point deficit in the final 2:10 to force overtime on Sam Ficken's 44-yard field goal with 20 seconds left. After Boston College kicker Alex Howell missed an extra point in overtime, Hackenberg hit tight end Kyle Carter with a tying 10-yard TD pass before Ficken added the winning extra point in a 31-30 Penn State victory.
The emotional Nittany Lions (7-6) celebrated the win by jumping on top of the Yankees' dugout to connect with their fans in their first bowl since the sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal three years ago were lifted earlier this season.
"We've been fractured the last three years," Lions coach James Franklin said, "but experiences and games like this have restored hope. When we're all pulling together, the sky is very high at Penn State."
Penn State got a school bowl-record performance from quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who completed 34 of 50 passes for 371 yards and four TDs, including a 16-yard scoring strike to DaeSean Hamilton to tie the game at 21 with 6:48 to play. But Boston College (7-6) QB Sean Murphy responded by leading a 69-yard drive for a 20-yard field goal by Howell for a 24-21 lead with 2:10 left.
Hackenberg then passed for 28 yards and ran for seven to position the Ficken field goal that sent the game to overtime tied at 24 with 20 seconds left in regulation. Boston College got the ball first in OT and scored on a 21-yard pass from Murphy to David Dudeck, but Howell's PAT attempt wasn't close. That opened the door for the Lions.
"I love Sam Ficken. He's been our best offensive weapon all year long," Franklin said. "He rang the bell on Wall Street the other day, and he rang the bell on the field goal [and winning PAT] to end it."
It's been a long journey for Ficken since Sept. 8, 2012, when he missed four field goals and a PAT in a 17-16 loss to Virginia. Ficken, a senior and a special teams captain, was assigned Derek Jeter's old locker in the Yankees clubhouse. "The equipment staff made it happen for me. No, I'm not a fan [he's a Cubs fan]. The way the game went and my career went, it's a funny thing. It was a storybook ending. I couldn't have written a better way for it to go."
This figured to be a defensive struggle, and with the exception of an exchange of big-play touchdowns 42 seconds apart, that's the way it went in the first half.
Hackenberg moved the ball into BC territory only to stall on the Nittany Lions' first two drives.