It didn’t take Eugene Lewis very long to add a burst of excitement in his Penn State debut

Last updated: August 31. 2013 11:37PM - 2861 Views
By - psokoloski@timesleader.com

Penn State wide receiver Eugene Lewis (7), a former Wyoming Valley West standout, breaks away from Syracuse free safety Jeremi Wilkes to score a touchdown during the fourth quarter Saturday in East Rutherford, N.J. Penn State won 23-17.
Penn State wide receiver Eugene Lewis (7), a former Wyoming Valley West standout, breaks away from Syracuse free safety Jeremi Wilkes to score a touchdown during the fourth quarter Saturday in East Rutherford, N.J. Penn State won 23-17.
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Careful, now.

That’s what Eugene Lewis remembered thinking as he pulled back on his first college touchdown celebration.

“You want to get excited when you get in,” Lewis said. “But you’ve got to do the right things in the end zone and make sure you don’t get a penalty.”

So his end zone antics consisted of a simple semi-spike.

After all, he didn’t need a flashy flurry. It turned out he’d already delivered the knockout punch.

The former Wyoming Valley West High School star pulled in a 54-yard touchdown pass for what turned out to be the winning points Saturday in the fourth quarter of Penn State’s season-opening 23-17 victory over Syracuse at MetLife Stadium.

Talk about starting with a splash.

“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Lewis said.

For a whole year.

A dynamic, big-play offensive machine since his sophomore season at Wyoming Valley West — where Lewis lit up the scoreboard with long touchdowns as a wide receiver, quarterback, punt returner and kick returner — he was forced to spend his freshman year taking a redshirt and starring on Penn State’s scout team in 2012.

When his first official college season opened Saturday, Lewis was in Penn State’s starting lineup as a wide receiver.

“That was something coach (Bill) O’Brien let me know before the game,” Lewis said. “You just want to go out there and show everybody what you can do.”

Nobody in the Wyoming Valley Conference needed convincing, after Lewis accounted for 68 touchdowns — 46 rushing and 22 passing while playing quarterback during his final two seasons at Valley West.

Neither did O’Brien, who took special delight in watching Lewis snag the first touchdown of his Penn State career.

“He’s a great kid,” O’Brien said. “He practices every day, he’s durable. He’s a guy who always has a smile on his face. He and I go back and forth in practice, busting chops. He likes a certain type of music, I like a certain type of music. We’re looking forward to coaching him in the future.”

That future starts now, after Lewis ran a perfect post pattern and snared a beautiful throw from true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg for the Lions’ second touchdown of the season.

“Lewis did a great job,” O’Brien said. “All Hackenberg had to do was throw it. Lewis did a nice job on that, (wideout) Allen Robinson drew some of the coverage, Christian made a nice throw and (running back) Zach Zwinak picked up a blitzer. Christian had the easiest part of that play.”

It didn’t take Lewis long to make the college game look easy for him.

He snagged a 7-yard catch on Penn State’s fifth play of the season, a sideline play that helped Lewis shake off some early butterflies.

“It’s good,” Lewis said. “There’s always going to be nerves, first game. Getting that first pass calms you down a little, let’s you know you can do this.”

He just knew the big, game-breaking play was coming.

Robinson took away the Syracuse cornerback on outside while running down the sideline, and Lewis went straight inside for the deep post.

“I knew my route was wide open,” Lewis said. “They changed their coverage. It was single coverage on the inside.”

Lewis had one man to beat, and he did — gaining a step on Syracuse safety Jeremi Wilkes and then going high in the air to make the catch.

“When ‘Hack’ threw the ball, I was sitting there waiting, (thinking) ‘Catch the ball, no matter what,’ ” the son of Rev. Eugene and Amy Lewis of Wilkes-Barre said.

When he came down, Lewis was already falling across the goal line — but stretched the ball across the line with his long reach in an extra effort to ensure Penn State had a quick six and a 23-10 lead with 11:39 on the game clock. That gave Lewis two catches for 62 yards on the day, and he now owns Penn State’s longest scoring play of the young season.

“I was making sure I was getting in the end zone,” Lewis said.

As he did, the Lions were sure they added another big-play threat to their lineup.

“To be honest, my goal was to come out here and do what the coaches tell me,” Lewis said. “Big plays for a receiver are always the focus, they always help your team win. I’m a competitor. I went out there, treated every opportunity like it’s my last.”

Chances are, it’s just the first of many.

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