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Penn State Football: Nittany Lions Comeback Falls Short In 42-39 Loss To Pitt

by on September 10, 2016 2:50 PM

Normally you can finish a game story by the time the game actually ends. But sometimes, it's impossible to describe. Sometimes it ends on the final play, the script completely changing over the span of a few seconds. So if you're lucky you can finish before the game does.

In fact that's what happened today, a game story nearly complete, a few details here or there. Maybe change the score or a few stats, but things seemed to be more or less over.

But then the rest of the game happened.

In what feels like another life Penn State was down 28-7 with little momentum on offense and even less fight on defense. Holes the size of the state parting in the middle of Penn State's defensive front. Already without the services of middle linebacker Jason Cabinda even more players left the game for chunks of time. The result was youth in big spots in a big game. It can go well, it can go poorly. For Penn State it was mostly the latter and by the time that changed it seemed nearly too late. Pitt seemed destined to win and determined to pound Penn State into the ground.

But the funny thing about early leads is how much time remains in the game. And Penn State seemed like a team that knew that and a 8-play, 83-yard drive culminated in the second of five Saquon Barkley touchdowns. Suddenly it was 28-14 game heading into the half, Penn State far from in control, but there was a bit of fight left in the Nittany Lions.

So as Pitt opened the second half with three consecutive miscues and penalties suddenly it didn't seem so unreasonable that Penn State could come back in spite of its own play. Momentum in all its fickle ways, started to swing back towards the Nittany Lions. A 40-yard pass to Saquon Barkley with 11:54 to go in the third quarter made it 28-21 and a crowd that was celebrating a victory during halftime was anything but excited.

Pitt responded with an 11-play 75-yard drive as a counter punch. James Conner punching home his own run in a game that was as much the heavyweight battle of running backs as it was rivals.

35-21 with 7:24 to go in the third.

Then a Penn State 68-yard drive punched right back. It was once again game on with 13:42 in regulation, Barkley with another 1-yard blast to inch just a few points closer.

35-28 with 13:42 to go in the game.

A Panther fumble gave Penn State the ball deep in Pitt territory, but a backwards moving drive meant Penn State had to settle for a 38-yard field goal. A wasted opportunity that may have been the difference between winning and losing.

"After James Conner fumbled, our defense went out there and held Penn State to a three and out," Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said after the game.  "We only gave up a field goal. I think that's huge. For us to hold them to three points, that's the game right there."

35-31 with 12:04 to play

A long kick return gave Pitt a shot 30-yard field and a few plays later the lead was extended again. One of three scoring drives that Penn State had of 30 or fewer yards.

42-31 with 10:24 left

Seemingly down and out a six-play, 60-yard drive with five minutes remaining cut into the lead again, a two point conversion cutting it to a single field goal. From being down 21 points to down just the swing of the leg the comeback was all but complete. Penn State just needed a stop and it needed the ball.

42-39 with 5:00 to go.

And Penn State got the stop on defense that it needed, it got the ball back with a long field but with plenty of time. But like all things it was good, bad and everything in between.

Perhaps simply because the game wasn't going to settle for a normal ending the Nittany Lions managed to convert a 4th and 16. If Penn State had gone on the win it would have been up there with a 2005 4th and 15 fourth down conversion against Northwestern to save the season.

But those historical parallels weren't meant to be. A long pass into the endzone and mistake on the route run by tight end Mike Gesicki ended the game just 31 yards from the endzone. Only a few plays earlier receiver DaeSean Hamilton dropping a long pass that hit him in the hands, a mistake that left him in tears as he answered questions in a crowded media room.

42-39 with no time on the clock.

On paper Penn State falls to 1-1 and Saquon Barkley recorded five touchdowns, both teams combined for 838 yards of offense, six turnovers and 81 points.

But in reality it was everything you could ask for in a game. It was what makes college football so much fun.

If anything, it was almost impossible to describe.

"Unbelievable." Narduzzi said.

Sounds about right.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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