STATE COLLEGE - Without any warning or warmup, Eugene Lewis threw a burst of excitement into an otherwise mundane Blue-White Game.
All it took was one dazzling pass.
This time, Lewis unleashed it instead of catching it - adding another weapon to the talented Penn State wide receiver’s wide arsenal of game-changing plays.
His first pass since Lewis’ days as a quarterback at Wyoming Valley West High School went for a 56-yard touchdown Saturday, by far the most crowd-pleasing play and only scoring pass of the day during the Blue’s 37-0 victory over the White at Beaver Stadium.
And he didn’t even need a practice throw or two to unleash that pretty spiral.
“When you got it, you got it,” Lewis laughed. “And you’ve always got it. I played quarterback before.”
He plays wide receiver in college now and is being counted on to become Penn State’s leader of the pass-catching corps now that go-to guy Allen Robinson is headed for the NFL.
But for one play, Lewis reached back into his past and pulled out a dazzler that shocked the White defense and left the Blue with a 30-0 advantage.
It came with 4:27 remaining in the third quarter, when Lewis sprinted around from his receiver position on a reverse.
“When I was coming off the edge, there were two guys coming up,” Lewis said.
But nobody was going out to cover fellow receiver Matt Zanellato, who was running all alone behind the White secondary. Lewis fired the ball about 30 yards on the run, and pumped his fist in celebration before Zanellato even caught the ball and waltzed the final 30 yards for the touchdown.
“He was so wide open,” Lewis said. “I was like, ‘Oh yeah, this is it!’”
That was about it for the game’s big aerial show, although Lewis nearly pulled off another crowd-pleaser in the first quarter. Running a deep post pattern from his receiver position, Lewis dove head-first and nearly came up with a spectacular, one-handed catch of quarterback Christian Hackenberg’s 40-yard bomb before the ball skimmed off Lewis’ fingertips.
“When I was running, I was kind of trying to see where the ball was, trying to judge it,” said Lewis, who will enter his redshirt sophomore season at Penn State in the fall. “I realized too late it was over my head. That’s a play I’ve got to make. Me and Hack talked about it.”
That’s certainly not the last time the two will get together. Lewis said the pair plans to spend the coming months interacting on and off the field, which is certain to help each learn the other’s tendencies and personalities in an effort to develop an even stronger repoire during the coming season.
“He’s basically the main guy on the team,” said Lewis, an Academic All-Big Ten last season who carries a GPA of over 3.00 in his College of Health and Human Development studies. “(We’ll be) throwing and catching the ball, hanging out. We’ve just got to really be on the same page for the season.”
After all, Lewis plans to help Penn State’s passing game write a new chapter after the departure of Robinson and his school records of 97 catches for 1,432 yards last season.
Lewis showed plenty of potential to fill those big-play shoes last year.
He opened his redshirt freshman season with an electric 54-yard touchdown catch from Hackenberg in a victory over Syracuse and closed the season with two touchdown grabs - including a career-long 59-yarder - in Penn State’s 31-24 upset of Wisconsin. In all, Lewis finished his first collegiate season with 18 catches for 234 yards, an average of 13 yards per catch. He snared three touchdowns, and will enter the fall as Penn State’s leading returning receiver.
“I have to step up,” Lewis said. “I’m ready for this role, ready for this position.”
Judging from Saturday, Penn State opponents should get ready for anything from Lewis.
“I’m pretty sure they knew I was a quarterback,” Lewis said of his coaches, insisting he never lobbied them to let him unleash a pass. “They surprised me with it. I was real excited when they called it. I saw it was going to happen and it turned out the right way. It was very exciting, just a fun time.”