STATE COLLEGE – Nyeem Wartman shredded through the blockers like he had so often last year at Valley View.
This was different.
This was in front of 96,000 fans. This was his first collegiate game. And Wartman made the most of it.
Shredding any doubts that he would redshirt in his true freshman year, Wartman came through with one of the biggest plays of the game for the Lions in a losing effort.
His first appearance had come earlier in the second quarter, spelling starting middle linebacker Glenn Carson.
He returned on fourth down, crashing through Ohio's punt protectors and pouncing quickly on Bobcats punter Grant Venham. Wartman deflected the kick straight up in the air, with Jesse Della Valle falling on the loose ball at the Ohio 18-yard line.
Three plays later another Lackawanna League alum in Matt McGloin hit walk-on tight end Matt Lehman for a 14-yard touchdown.
"I feel like I have a lot to prove," Wartman said following his performance in the Big 33 all-star game in June, a week before arriving at Penn State. "I can show that I can make a difference." Wartman was not available for interviews after the game, per Penn State's policy on true freshmen. The former Cougars star was one of four rookies to play for the Lions in the opener, joining cornerback Da'Quan Davis, tight end Jesse James and wide receiver Trevor Williams. Former Wyoming Valley West and Meyers star Eugene Lewis did not play. Lions coach Bill O'Brien said this week that Penn State would try to redshirt Lewis this season.
Three key starters missed extended periods of time because of lower-body injuries. Cornerback Stephon Morris and tailback Bill Belton did not return after both suffering sprained ankles in the second half.
Linebacker Gerald Hodges missed a few drives in the second half with a knee contusion before returning in the fourth quarter.
O'Brien had no updates on any of them looking ahead to next week's game at Virginia.
"I don't know anything about it at this time," O'Brien said. "I don't have anything to report. I'll be able to tell better on Monday."
O'Brien had said little about his return game throughout preseason camp. Saturday revealed why.
Penn State had been experimenting with using Hodges to return both punts and kicks in August, keeping it under wraps and surprising most of Beaver Stadium.
It didn't work out well.
Hodges fielded one kickoff and two punts for 11 net yards. On his last attempt, he bobbled a punt deep in his own territory. Ohio recovered and kicked a field goal for its only points of the first half.
"He had a lot of time back there (in the summer)," O'Brien said. "He's an excellent player. We gave him a lot of work back there. We have four or five guys that did a lot of work back there. We chose to go with two or three guys today. That's what we chose to do."
After the fumble, the return duties were handled by Adrian Amos, Belton and Alex Kenney.
There in spirit?
Penn State held a "moment of reflection" before the game, asking fans for silence to "consider all victims of child sexual abuse and those who have endured suffering and loss." It was also the closest the school came to acknowledging Joe Paterno, the late Lions' coach whose likeness has disappeared from around campus since July. Paterno's wife Sue and son Jay were among the family members who were in attendance.
Players said they were not disappointed that a tribute to their former coach was not part of the pregame ceremonies.
"No, not at all," McGloin said. "We had a lot of great times here with coach Paterno. We have coach O'Brien now, and he's doing a tremendous, tremendous job. Unfortunately we couldn't get the win for him."
But Paterno did appear in at least one form on Saturday.
In one of the stadium's suites -- right underneath the large 1986 representing the Lions' last national title season -- stood a cardboard cutout of Paterno in the front row.
Perhaps not coincidentally, former Penn State great Franco Harris was two seats down. Harris has been one of Paterno's biggest supporters since the coach was fired back in November.
Midway through the game, a sign was attached to the cutout.
It read, "DUE PROCESS FOR PSU JVP".