EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — On the TV broadcast, the graphic briefly flashed along the bottom of the screen in the fourth quarter.
“STEPHEN OBENG-AGYAPONG 54 YARD TD RECEPTION”
OK, so it was actually Eugene Lewis, who happens to share the No. 7 jersey for the Nittany Lions this season. But it was about the only thing Obeng-Agyapong didn’t accomplish in front of friends and family at MetLife Stadium.
The senior safety was pressed into duty at outside linebacker when Mike Hull exited the game with an apparent knee injury in the first half. A veteran who looked to have lost his starting spot in the secondary instead came through with eight tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception in Penn State’s win over Syracuse on Saturday.
“My best game ever,” Obeng-Agyapong beamed afterward.
Not the least because he grew up just across the river from the stadium in the Bronx with many supporters in the stands.
With the Lions dangerously thin at linebacker this season, the coaching staff asked Obeng-Agyapong to work a bit at linebacker in training camp, preferring to use the 5-foot-10, 205-pounder over an inexperienced group of natural linebackers.
It was a contingency plan. And Penn State had to turn to it after Hull limped off the field early in the 2012 opener.
Obeng-Agyapong’s performance was better than anyone could have expected.
“He really stepped up for us,” senior linebacker Glenn Carson said. “I mean, when a guy goes down, you’re looking for that guy to step in. That’s what depth is all about.
“He’s a kid who works hard. It’s his senior year and it’s really great to see him excel on the field like that.”
After a Penn State turnover in the second quarter, Obeng-Agyapong immediately answered for the Lions, ripping the ball free from Syracuse running back Jerome Smith and recovering it himself in the pile.
In the third quarter, he took advantage of a poor throw by Orange quarterback Drew Allen for his first career interception. He polished off his day with the biggest hit of the day, coming untouched on a blitz to level Allen.
“It was real special,” Obeng-Agyapong said. “Especially to do that in front of people who came to the game that usually can’t see me. Felt really good.”
“He’s a guy that’s just a real team guy,” Lions coach Bill O’Brien said. “It was a great homecoming for him.”
Hull’s injury was certainly a cause for alarm for the Lions, but it likely wasn’t the most serious issue for a Penn State player on the day.
Senior tight end Matt Lehman appeared to suffer a serious knee injury in the first half. Lehman was untouched when he tried to make a cut at the top of his route only to have the knee buckle on him.
Lehman crashed to the turf and immediately clutched at the knee. He was quickly carted off the field and did not return.
O’Brien said he did not have an update on Lehman or Hull after the game.
Hull limped off the field in the first quarter after making a tackle and briefly went to the locker room with trainers. He eventually returned to the field with his right knee wrapped and played sparingly in the second quarter before calling it a day. He spent the second half on the sideline in street clothes.
“It’s always tough when you lose a guy like Mike Hull,” Carson said. “He’s one of the hearts and souls of the defense. He’s just a guy that gets after it every time, so it’s tough. But you’ve got to keep rolling with the punches.”
A handful of other players missed brief stretches of the game with minor injuries, including Kyle Carter, Nyeem Wartman, Donovan Smith and Jordan Lucas.
Ferguson makes brief cameo
O’Brien told his quarterbacks before the game that Tyler Ferguson would get a shot with the first-team offense on the third series.
Things started off well enough for the junior college transfer, who danced away from pressure to find Matt Zanellato for 18 yards. But on his next drop back, the ball simply slipped out of his hand on his wind-up and Syracuse recovered, turning the fumble into three points.
It was the last time Ferguson saw the field. Christian Hackenberg played the rest of the way.
“I’m sure he was (disappointed),” O’Brien said of Ferguson. “But at that point in the game, I just felt like it was best to go with Christian.”