Looking Back at Beaver Stadium’s Top Moments from 2016
Fans can look forward to plenty of highlights during the upcoming season at Beaver Stadium. Before that, though, let’s look back at the top moments from last year.
From late-game comebacks to late-season domination, the Nittany Lions completed perhaps the most memorable home season in program history.
Opening Game Pick-6
Penn State’s first 30 minutes of the season were iffy. The Lions held just a 16-13 halftime lead against Kent State, coming off a disappointing 2015 campaign in which Penn State lost its final four games. Then everyone was introduced to cornerback Amani Oruwariye, who returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown early in the second half. That set the tone as the Lions shut out the Golden Flashes the rest of the way en route to a 33-13 victory.
Gesicki’s One-Handed Grab
Mike Gesicki’s transformational season was a significant factor last year. The incoming senior rededicated himself following the 2015 campaign. In 2016, Gesicki set season-best program marks for catches (48) and yards (679) by a tight end. It’s difficult to choose just one play that stands out, though Gesicki’s one-handed grab against Temple served as a prelude for the outstanding season he’d have.
This was the game that arguably turned everything around, giving the team momentum and serving as a prelude to the team’s amazing victory over Ohio State a few weeks later. After the Gophers kicked a field goal in overtime, Saquon Barkley ripped a 25-yard gain for a touchdown into the north end zone, setting off a postgame celebration that felt big. And it was.
Dismantling the Terrapins
It seems that Maryland has (rightly) figured out that they’re not at the same level as Penn State, certainly not enough to serve as a true rival. Penn State racked up 372 rushing yards in the 38-14 Homecoming victory, the third-highest total in program history against a Big Ten opponent. The usual superstars supplied their typical great performances (Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley combined for 283 rushing yards), though Miles Sanders also stood out, barreling in for a 25-yard touchdown late in the game, the first of presumably many scores he’ll have as a Nittany Lion.
Haley’s Historic Scamper
The Marcus Allen block/Grant Haley touchdown return combination late in the fourth quarter against Ohio State will absolutely go down as one of the top plays in the history of Beaver Stadium. I was on the Penn State sideline during that play; if I were on the Ohio State side, I’d have had a better vantage point to record the play, however my position on the field did allow me a quick glance at James Franklin after the play. Understandably, Franklin was fired up, as was the entire stadium. Though as he glanced at the game clock to see how much time remained, he was more focused than exuberant. He enjoyed the moment, but he didn’t get lost in it. That image is what kept coming back to me during the Lions’ nine-game winning streak, and why I understood how the team kept its edge all year.
Saquon, James, and the Victory Bell
Saquon Barkley had just completed a masterful performance against Iowa, compiling 211 all-purpose yards and scoring two touchdowns, when he made his way toward the Victory Bell. He was one of the last off the field, and head coach James Franklin accompanied him after the on-field, postgame media had completed. Barkley rung the Victory Bell, though something went amiss when the typical “clang” didn’t vibrate through the stadium. No matter, Barkley felt, as he started to walk off the field. His coach had other ideas. Franklin called him back, not letting him leave the field before truly ringing the Victory Bell, which Barkley did on his second try. Franklin followed with a ring of his own, and then they both disappeared down the tunnel. Maybe it was just a moment, and trying to make it something more would feel forced. But it resonated as an example of how Franklin never stops coaching, even after the game ends.
Fan Reaction to Ohio State-Michigan
The biggest cheers from the first half of Penn State’s season finale against Michigan State had nothing to do with what was happening on the field. Everyone knew the scenario Penn State needed to win the Big Ten East Division: have Ohio State beat Michigan and then take care of the Spartans. And after the Buckeyes escaped with a double overtime victory, the fans roared before the score was announced to the crowd. The minutes leading up to that moment were somewhat surreal. Sideline personnel were checking their phones for updates, media members working along the sidelines scrolled through their phones in between plays. At one point, a photographer asked me if there was a final score, everyone wanting to know whether or not they’d be making the trip to Indianapolis the following week.
Big Ten East Division Champs
Penn State finished off Michigan State after the crowd reaction, leading to the team claiming the Big Ten East Division. The trophy presentation took place on the field following the game, and most of the fans stuck around. It was incredible to think how much had changed in the couple of months leading up to that title. It felt like Beaver Stadium had collectively exhaled after months and years of trying to return to the top of college football, and that’s exactly what the Lions did in 2016. In what might turn out to be a famously true vision, Franklin told the fans after the game that this was only the beginning.
The evolution of Franklin and his team will continue this year. Follow us on social media (@HappyValleyPSU) to stay updated on everything.