Thursday, July 10, 2014





Early-season goat Ficken plays hero in finale


February 19. 2013 7:00PM
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STATE COLLEGE -- How's this for some nifty kickin' from Sam Ficken?


A string of 10 straight field goals to finish the season.


A couple of timely kicks to keep Penn State within striking distance of Wisconsin.


And finally, the game-winning field goal in overtime Saturday to send Penn State's seniors off into the sunset in celebration.


I love touchdowns, Ficken said after drilling the 37-yard field goal that lifted Penn State top a season-ending 24-21 victory over Wisconsin. But when you have that opportunity as a kicker, it's your dream.


You WANT that kick.


For most of the season, nobody rooting for Penn State wanted Ficken on the field.


Not after he missed four field goals -- including the potential game-winner -- and had an extra point blocked against Virginia in Week 2.


Not after Ficken flubbed six of his first eight field goal attempts to start this season. Not after the sophomore kicker shanked an extra point against Navy, then two weeks later missed a 47-yard field goal try and had an 18-yarder blocked at Illinois.


But I was pretty confident in myself the whole time, Ficken said.


Hardly anyone else shared his certainty.


Penn State fans peppered Ficken with insults on social media following his nightmare of a game in Virginia.


Heck, even Penn State coach Bill O'Brien -- despite insisting he was sticken' with Ficken -- seemed to lose faith in his kicker on the field. That became obvious when O'Brien regularly began passing on field goal attempts in the red zone and going for it on fourth-and-8.


I'm not going to judge what he's planning, Ficken said. I'm just going to try to do my job when the coach calls my number.


They called on Ficken to save the final game of a tumultuous season.


Trailing 14-7 as the second half opened, Ficken converted a 23-yard field goal to pull Penn State within four points of Wisconsin. Then he got them within 14-13 with a 32-yard field goal late in the third quarter.


How did it get to this point?


How did the guy nobody around Penn State could trust suddenly transform into Mr. Reliable?


A lot of hard work, Ficken said.


It took more than that.


Former Penn State kickers Robbie Gould and Kevin Kelly weighed in during the season, telling tales of their old Penn State struggles, giving Ficken kicking tips and, maybe most importantly, urging him to stay strong in his self-belief. Especially Gould, who's blossomed into one of the NFL's more reliable kickers with the Chicago Bears.


He helped me out a ton, Ficken said. Look at him, he wasn't the best here. But he's great in the NFL.


Ficken turned great at the most timely moment for Penn State.


The school added this year to the revered list of unbeaten and championship seasons emblazoned on the Beaver Stadium walls during a moving pregame ceremony.


It would have been terrible not to win that game after that pregame ceremony, O'Brien said. I think there was a lot riding on this game for these players.


They rode the leg of Ficken to victory.


On the first possession of overtime, Ficken split the uprights with a 37-yard field goal, putting Penn State up by three points.


There's a kid, too, O'Brien said of Ficken, I guess there's be a lot of kids like him, who worked hard. I can't say enough about him and the way he rallied. He made some big kicks for us tonight.


I can't be prouder of Sam Ficken, to think of where he came from to tonight, kicking the winning kick.


The final win for Penn State of 2012 wasn't secured until another kicker walked off the field in misery.


Wisconsin's Kyle French had a chance to keep the game going, but he hooked a 45-yard field goal attempt that sent the Nittany Lions running from the field in jubilation.


Ficken can relate to the agony.


You never want to see a kicker lose games, said Ficken, who actually finished the season with 14 field goals in 21 attempts and was 40-for-42 on extra points. That's a terrible feeling. I feel bad for him. But I'm happy for my team.


It feels good to come out and get one for the team.


This time, Ficken found out how it feels to be a hero. This time, somebody on the other team took the blame.


I feel really good to actually bounce back, Ficken said. I couldn't be happier with the way the season ended.




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