UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On the field, Penn State players and coaches took turns congratulating Appalachian State players for the effort they had put forth. They received similar words and gestures of encouragement from their own coaches.
Fans of the Nittany Lions even gave head coach Scott Satterfield and other late-departing members of the Mountaineers a standing ovation as they exited the field.
On the 11-year anniversary of Appalachian’s memorable upset of a Big Ten opponent, a trip to Happy Valley had plenty of peaks, but No. 9 Penn State pulled out a 45-38 overtime victory in front of 105,232 fans at Beaver Stadium.
Trailing by 14 points with less than eight minutes remaining, App State (0-1) posted three straight touchdowns, moving ahead 38-31 after Jalin Moore scored on a 16-yard touchdown run with 1:47 left.
Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley’s 15-yard touchdown pass helped tie the game with 42 seconds left, App State kicker Chandler Staton had enough distance on a 56-yard field goal attempt that sailed wide to the right with 15 seconds remaining and the Nittany Lions (1-0) scored in the first session of overtime on a 4-yard run by Miles Sanders. Right after Appalachian running back Darrynton Evans made a fourth-down conversion with a 1-yard run to the 15, Penn State’s Amani Oruwariye came down with an acrobatic interception in the end zone to end the thriller.
“We certainly had a lot of respect for them, and our kids believed,” Satterfield said. “There was not any doubt in our minds that we could come in here and get this win. We played like that.
“You get down 14, the composure that we showed, for the young football team that we have with 12 seniors and not many juniors, that was the one question mark I had about our team — would your team fold and lay down when adversity hits. I think that questioned was answered. We’re down 14 and continued to fight and ended up taking the lead. I’m extremely proud of our program and our guys and the way they fight. We’ll grow from this and get better.”
Evans had a 100-yard touchdown on a first-quarter kickoff return to provide a glimpse into the resiliency that the Mountaineers would show, and new starting quarterback Zac Thomas accounted for three fourth-quarter touchdowns before finishing with 313 total yards, including 270 through the air. He completed 25 of his 38 pass attempts and had a long run of 22 yards.
Sophomore receiver Malik Williams came through with the first two touchdown catches of his career, Moore rushed for 88 yards and redshirt freshman Peyton Derrick prolonged a fourth-quarter touchdown drive by throwing a 22-yard strike to Dominique Heath on a fourth-and-2 play from the 24 with a shaken-up Thomas sidelined for one snap following a 15-yard scramble.
“The offensive line did their job, and the receivers were doing their job and getting open,” Thomas said. “Jalin Moore had a great game, too. Not just me — the whole offense tonight clicked, and I thought we showed the nation what we have.”
Said Williams, “Last year with the older guys really helped me a lot and built my momentum up and made me a better receiver — guys like (2017 seniors) Ike Lewis and Dante Jones.”
Thomas connected with Williams on fourth-quarter scoring passes of 17 and 24 yards before reaching the end zone on a 1-yard quarterback keeper that helped tie the game at 31-all with 6:03 left. That drive followed Austin Exford’s recovery of an onside kick and Corey Sutton’s 39-yard reception that moved the ball to the Penn State 1.
Desmond Franklin’s quarterback hurry forced a three-and-out after the tying score, and Clayton Howell had a punt downed by Tae Hayes at the 4-yard line to set up another three-and-out, this one capped by Josh Thomas’ quarterback hurry. Thomas Hennigan’s fair catch at the Penn State 42 created a short field for the Mountaineers, and Moore accounted for every yard on the four-play touchdown drive that put App State on the brink of an upset 11 years after it beat Michigan on the debut of the Big Ten Network.
A 52-yard kickoff return by an initially hesitant KJ Hamler moved the ball into App State territory, and five completions from McSorley enabled Penn State to break even. The fourth quarter alone featured 42 points, including 28 by the Mountaineers.
The back-and-forth ending followed a low-scoring first half. Evans’ second straight game with a kickoff return for a touchdown — he had a 94-yard return in the 2016 Camellia Bowl before redshirting last season — and a 38-yard field goal from Staton allowed App State to hold a 10-7 lead late in the second quarter.
“I fielded the kick, started running and saw a hole,” Evans said. “I was like, ‘You have to be kidding.’ I just hit it from there.”
The Mountaineers finished with 451 total yards, 17 more than the Nittany Lions, and senior linebacker Anthony Flory made a team-high nine tackles. Fellow inside linebacker Jordan Fehr contributed eight tackles as one of six first-time starters for one of the nation’s youngest teams, and Demetrius Taylor recorded a first-half sack.
Appalachian returns to action next weekend at Charlotte. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.
The attendance of 105,232 is the third-largest crowd for an App State game. The 2007 upset of Michigan drew 109,218 fans, and App State’s visit to Michigan in 2014 drew a crowd of 106,811.
Darrynton Evans’ 100-yard kickoff return is only the second one of that maximum length in program history. Keith Nash had a 100-yard return against Lenoir-Ryne in 1968.
It was App State’s first kickoff return for a TD since Evans had a 94-yard return in the 2016 Camellia Bowl. Evans redshirted in 2017, so he’s had a kickoff return for a touchdown in each of his last two games as an active player. It marked two touchdowns in his last three returns, as he had a 14-yard return after his 94-yard return in the bowl game.
App State’s last kickoff return of 95 yards or longer occurred when Tony Washington had a 99-yard return for a touchdown against Wofford in 2012.
App State’s first-time starters were quarterback Zac Thomas, right guard Baer Hunter, receiver Corey Sutton, defensive end Elijah Diarrassouba, outside linebacker Tim Frizzell and inside linebacker Jordan Fehr.
Sophomore defensive lineman Demetrius Taylor recorded a first-half sack for a loss of 8 yards, increasing his career total to 4.0 sacks in 13 games.
Corey Sutton, Dominique Heath, Steven Jones, Ryan Huff, Clayton Howell, Nick Hampton, Tyler Bird, D’Marco Jackson, Jermaine McDaniel Jr., Henry Pearson and Peyton Derrick saw the first game action of their App State careers.
Quarterback Zac Thomas had the first two touchdown passes of his career, and Malik Williams had the first two touchdown receptions of his career. Williams had a touchdown pass and a touchdown run last year as a true freshman.