Penn State has held a lead in the fourth quarter of 31 consecutive games. The Nittany Lions had blown two straight fourth quarter leads inside Beaver Stadium. With 3:18 remaining in Saturday’s game versus Iowa, Penn State appeared destined for a third-straight fourth quarter collapse at home.
Nick Scott had other plans.
“Just hold on to the ball,” Scott thought to himself as a Nate Stanley pass floated toward the senior safety on Penn State’s own two-yard line with the Nittany Lions up just six in the final minutes.
“It’s the easy ones you’ve got to really hold on to,” Scott continued. “You see the 100 yards in front of you, and it’s hard to focus 100 percent on the ball. I was just able to secure the catch.”
The pass, intended for Iowa’s leading receiver — tight end Noah Fant — was securely caught by the safety as the defense that he captains was finally able to close out a game.
“It means so much,” cornerback Amani Oruwariye said. “We always just talk about finish, finish, finish. That’s one of our core goals every game just to try and finish.”
Penn State held a ten-point lead earlier in the fourth and had been successful all game at slowing Stanley and his tight end tandem of Noah Fant and TJ Hockenson.
Stanley entered play with the second most touchdowns in the Big Ten and his pair of tight ends had a combined 51 catches a 736 yards receiving. Instead of lighting up a Nittany Lion defense that was void of starting safety Garrett Taylor for a half and soggy conditions that favor a receiver’s ability to make a move around defenders, the Penn State defense rose to the occasion.
Stanley completed just six of his first 21 pass attempts, and Fant, the FBS co-leader in touchdown from a tight end didn’t record a catch until the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t always play smart, especially early on in the game, but we played gutsy,” James Franklin said. “Our defense was so resilient.”
Even John Reid, whose struggles returning from injury have been well-documented this season, demonstrated resilience with a huge momentum-swinging interception in the second quarter that set up an easy Tommy Stevens touchdown.
But for all of the nearly 57 minutes of suffocating the Iowa offense, the Nittany Lions still found themselves ready to collapse yet again. Scott has been vocal about the defense’s inability to close games since the postgame press conference following the Ohio State loss.
With his team on the brink of failure in front of his home fans yet again, his confidence never wavered.
“We weren’t happy with losing in front of our fans and in front of people that have our back,” Scott said. “We played with a tremendous amount of pride. We wanted to go 1-0 this week and held our intentions of coming out with a win in Beaver Stadium.”
For a defense that has played a combined 188 snaps in its last two games to come up with a huge fourth quarter stop was not only monumental for the individual game, but for the season as a whole.
Another blown lead could have spelled disaster for a team’s hopes moving forward. Instead the proof is in the pudding. The Nittany Lions have finally proven they can stop a team when it matters the most. And with a trip to Michigan against a Wolverine team fresh off a bye, the energy from this confidence boost may just yield dividends in the waning seconds inside the Big House.
“The sky’s the limit,” Oruwariye said. There’s no weak link in our [defense]. Everyone’s coming to play every single week.