EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Penn State’s defense came up with two big stops in the final five minutes and Eugene Lewis scored the winning touchdown as the Nittany Lions held off Syracuse 23-17 on Saturday at MetLife Stadium.
Playing in his first collegiate game, Lewis torched the Orange defense down the middle of the field in the fourth quarter for a 54-yard touchdown that gave the Nittany Lions a 23-10 lead.
Syracuse answered, turning a Christian Hackenberg interception into a touchdown to pull within 23-17. The Lions sealed it with a Trevor Williams interception with a minute left to play.
For more on Penn State’s victory, check back to timesleader.com and see Sunday’s edition of The Times Leader.
Syracuse took advantage of a freshman mistake by Christian Hackenberg and the Orange have cut Penn State’s lead to 23-17 with 6:58 to play.
Under pressure on a blitz, Hackenberg forced a quick pass into coverage, where it’s intercepted by defensive end Robert Welsh. The return goes back to the Lions 1 and Jerome Smith punches it in on the next play for his second touchdown of the day.
Eugene Lewis made his presence felt in his first college game.
After spending much of the game on the sideline, Lewis torched his man down the middle of the field in the fourth quarter for a 54-yard touchdown, giving Penn State a commanding 23-10 lead over Syracuse.
It was Lewis’ first career touchdown after redshirting in 2012.
Sam Ficken hit a career-best 46-yard field goal to give Penn State a 16-10 lead over Syracuse with 14:16 to play.
The much-maligned Ficken has now hit 13 straight kicks dating back to last season. He did not, however, convert from beyond 40 yards in 2012.
Penn State played a half without Allen Robinson. Mike Hull has exited the game with an injury. Several other prominent Lions have missed time with bumps and bruises.
The Lions lead 13-10 after three quarters in part because of the play of some depth players.
Senior safety/linebacker Stephen Obeng-Agyapong came up with his second turnover of the game, picking up an interception to go with his fumble recovery to halt another Syracuse drive.
Before that, tight-end-turned-tackle Garry Gilliam saved a touchdown by making a critical tackle on a fumble return.
Robinson, who had six catches for 115 yards and a touchdown in the quarter, fumbled after a gain of 18 midway through the frame with Syracuse’s Brandon Reddish going 42 yards the other way. Only Gilliam stopped him from finding the end zone and the Orange ultimately missed a field goal try to keep Penn State in the lead.
Welcome back, Allen Robinson.
After sitting out the first half for what Bill O’Brien called disciplinary reasons, Robinson touched the ball twice to start the second half and already has found the end zone.
Robinson broke wide open down the left sideline for a 51-yard touchdown. Syracuse answered immediately with a deep ball to set up a 10-yard touchdown run by Jerome Smith.
Penn State leads 13-10 early in the third quarter. Both scoring drives took just two plays.
Robinson’s first play of the season was a bubble screen in the slot that he took for a gain of 25. He then found himself wide open down the left sideline, only to have Christian Hackenberg underthrow the ball.
But Robinson was so open that he had time to stop, scoop up the low throw and then accelerate from a dead stop past the rest of the Syracuse defense for a score.
Syracuse victimized Penn State safety Malcolm Willis on the next play, as Jeremiah Kobena got behind the senior and hauled in a well-thrown lob for 55 yards. Smith scored on the next play.
It hasn’t been pretty at all for either side. But Penn State heads to the locker room with a 6-3 lead over Syracuse at MetLife Stadium.
Sam Ficken hit his second field goal of the quarter in the final minute, this time from 35 yards out, to give the Nittany Lions their first lead of the season. Ficken’s other make was 36 yards.
Throwing mostly bubble screens and short passes, Christian Hackenberg starts his career 11-for-15 for 69 yards and an interception. Tyler Ferguson played one drive that ended when he dropped the ball on his windup. Syracuse recovered and converted it into a field goal.
Penn State played the first half without star wideout Allen Robinson for disciplinary reasons. He will return for the second half, according to coach Bill O’Brien.
“That’s between me and Allen,” O’Brien said in his halftime TV interview.
The Lions also had tight end Matt Lehman carted off with what looked to be a serious knee injury. Penn State has also seen linebacker Mike Hull and tight end Kyle Carter miss time with minor injuries, though both have returned.
After trading turnovers, Penn State has its first points of 2013.
Sam Ficken connected on a 36-yard field goal to tie the game at 3-3 with 5:59 to play in the first half. The field goal, which was Ficken’s 11th straight make dating back to last season, was set up by a strip and recovery by safety-turned-linebacker Stephen Obeng-Agyapong.
Penn State had initially gotten life from its special teams as a low snap skipped back to Jonathan Fisher. That gave defensive lineman Carl Nassib — brother of prolific former Syracuse quarterback Ryan — a shot at bringing him down for a loss of 17.
Syracuse answered right back, however, as Christian Hackenberg threw his first career interception. Safety Jeremi Wilkes jumped in front of Kyle Carter for the pick.
Obeng-Agyapong responded by causing a turnover of his own, ripping the ball away from the Orange at the end of a play.
The Lions initially lined up for a 47-yard field goal on the ensuing drive, but holder Ryan Keiser took the snap and comfortably converted on fourth-and-2.
Syracuse held from there, setting up Ficken’s kick.
Penn State’s depth is already being tested.
The Nittany Lions were dealt a tough blow in the second quarter as senior tight end Matt Lehman was carted off the field with an apparent knee injury as Penn State trails Syracuse 3-0 at MetLife Stadium.
Lehman was untouched as he tried to make a cut at the top of his route when his left knee gave out on him, sending him quickly to the turf.
The fifth-year senior immediately clutched his knee and the cart was summoned within a minute.
Mike Hull has returned for the Nittany Lions, who trail Syracuse 3-0 in the second quarter of the 2013 opener.
The Orange capitalized on a Tyler Ferguson fumble, converting the trunover into three points on a 32-yard field goal by Ross Krautman.
Hull, who spent a stretch in the locker room with team trainers, returned to the sideline with an extra wrap on his right knee. After a timeout, he was on the field for a third-and-long stop by the defense before the field goal.
Penn State and Syracuse are scoreless through one quarter at MetLife Stadium. The Nittany Lions’ depth will be severely tested for the final three frames.
Top wideout Allen Robinson appears to be healthy but is not playing. Dynamic linebacker Mike Hull limped off the field and headed to the locker room and has yet to return.
Eugene Lewis and Matt Zanellato have taken the bulk of Robinson’s snaps. Safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong has stepped into Hull spot at outside linebacker.
Christian Hackenberg took the first two drives for the Lions and went 6-for-7 for 36 yards. Tyler Ferguson was under center for the third drive but had the ball slip out of his hands, with Syracuse recovering the fumble at the Penn State 43.
Christian Hackenberg indeed started at quarterback for Penn State. The much bigger surprise was who didn’t.
Top wideout Allen Robinson spent the opening series on the sideline with former Wyoming Valley Conference star Eugene Lewis taking his place. Lewis made his first career catch on the drive, hauling in a 7-yard reception from Hackenberg.
Robinson sat out a few camp practices that were open to media to rest his hamstring. He was not on the team’s injury report this week, however, and was expected to play as usual.
Before the game, Penn State was represented by game captains Glenn Carson and John Urschel, taking midfield along with recently enshrined Pro Football Hall of Famer and Penn State great Dave Robinson.
Fifth-year senior Drew Allen, an Oklahoma transfer, started at quarterback for Syracuse.
With the Lions’ depth beginning to erode because of NCAA sanctions, they will need to rely more and more on freshmen to play early in their careers.
To hammer that point home, the Lions brought 16 true freshmen on their travel roster for the opener. Six of them — Hackenberg, linebacker Branon Bell, kicker Chris Gulla, tackle Andrew Nelson, defensive end Garrett Sickels and return man Von Walker — had full written bios provided by the school, indicating that all six have a good chance to play this season, if not today.
Four other true freshmen — TE Adam Breneman, WR Richy Anderson, CB Jordan Smith and CB Anthony Smith — arrived on campus in January and already had bios in the media guide.
The rest of the rookies in uniform today for Penn State are QB Ausin Whipple, QB D.J. Crook, RB Chip Chiappialle, LB Brandon Smith, OL Brendan Mahon and WR Gregg Garrity.
Penn State also brought 15 redshirt freshmen on the trip. Of the 74 players dressed for the Lions, 42 percent have freshman eligibility.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Penn State had gone a full century without starting a season with a true freshman at quarterback. Today, the Nittany Lions will now have done it twice in four seasons.
Top recruit Christian Hackenberg is expected to be under center for the Lions as they open the 2013 campaign against Syracuse at 3:30 p.m. The Times Leader is live from MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Giants and Jets, and will be providing updates throughout the day.
Hackenberg was rated by some services as the nation’s top pro-style passer coming out of Fork Union Military Academy. He’ll face an aggressive Syracuse defense led by new head coach Scott Shafer, who was promoted from defensive coordinator.
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien has said all week that both Hackenberg and sophomore Tyler Ferguson will see the field today, though the plan is for Hackenberg to take the majority of the snaps.
Hackenberg follows Rob Bolden, who opened the 2010 season at quarterback as a true freshman. Before Bolden, the last Penn State player in that position was Hall-of-Famer Shorty Miller in 1910.
Check back to timesleader.com for more leading up to kickoff and during the game. Get instant commentary by following along on Twitter.