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.
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, the Mountaineers (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 left and the Nittany Lions (1-0) scored in the first session of overtime on a 4-yard run by Miles Sanders. Right after App State running back Darrynton Evans made a fourth-down conversion with a 1-yard run to the 15, Penn State’s Amani Oruwariye made an acrobatic interception in the end zone to end the thriller.
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 270 passing yards. Moore rushed for 88 yards and hauled in five catches.
Thomas connected with Malik Williams on 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 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.
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 first half.
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 in his first start.
Appalachian returns to action next weekend at Charlotte. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.