Penn State’s Anthony Zettel fittingly helped seal the victory with a sack to start Rutgers’ final drive.
With Penn State finally ahead, Zettel was in the backfield to pull down Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova on first down of a drive that began with 1:11 on the clock.
Rutgers took a timeout facing second-and-18 at the 23-yard line. The sack helped diminish any hope of a drive down the field to force overtime or stun the Nittany Lions.
“We couldn’t handle him in the second half,” Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said of Zettel. “And when you look at the lack of production on offense, it won’t be the only place to look but it’s probably the place to start. That kid is a good football player and we didn’t do enough to control him. He controlled the second half of that game.”
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By the end of the night, the Penn State players were rushing toward their fans beyond the end zone to celebrate a 13-10 win over the Scarlet Knights on Saturday night. A six-play, 80-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter lifted the Nittany Lions to victory.
It was made possible by a stout defensive performance that kept Penn State in the game and held Rutgers scoreless in the second half.
Penn State picked off Nova five times. The Nittany Lions limited Rutgers to three first downs and 95 total yards in a dominant second half. Zettel finished with a sack and three tackles for loss.
“It was big today just because we needed all the help we could get on offense,” Penn State linebacker Mike Hull said of the turnovers. “And I think we did a good job playing complementary football, especially at the end.”
While the offense sputtered in the first half, Penn State went into halftime down 10-0.
Rutgers’ lone touchdown capped a 10-play, 80-yard drive in the second quarter.
Nova sprinted toward the end zone and spun away from Malik Golden before falling into the end zone as he took a hit from Trevor Williams.
Rutgers led 7-0 with 11:32 left in the half. The Scarlet Knights added a 32-yard field goal by Kyle Federico to take a 10-0 lead.
“They hadn’t played great on offense, but we’re down by 10,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “Our defense kept us in the game.”
The defense put Penn State in position to win the game with a shutout in the second half.
Before the start of the fourth quarter, the players on the Penn State sideline turned to their left and looked to the Nittany Lions’ fans packed into a corner of High Point Solutions Stadium.
Cornerback Jordan Lucas and Golden were among the Nittany Lions waving their arms, trying to keep the energy high despite trailing Rutgers by seven points.
With Penn State trailing 10-6, Nittany Lions linebacker Brandon Bell came up with an interception with just more than nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
The defense went to the sideline fired up at providing another opportunity for its offense to cut into Rutgers’ lead.
Lucas waved his arms jogging toward the sideline. Anthony Zettel gave multiple fist pumps in the backfield.
“Obviously we were down, so we needed a stop to get the ball back in the offense’s hands,” Bell said.
But Penn State’s ensuing drive stalled at the Rutgers 36-yard line and ended with quarterback Christian Hackenberg punting the ball away.
The ball traveled just five yards.
Rutgers started its drive with 5:33 remaining.
After a nine-yard pass by Nova and a 12-yard rush by Scarlet Knights running back Paul James, the Penn State defense dug in.
James rushed for four yards on two carries to set up third down. Nova’s pass intended for Tyler Kroft fell incomplete.
The defense gave Hackenberg yet another chance with 3:02 remaining.
“(Hackenberg) realizes that we’ve got a really good defense and they’ll keep us in the game,” Franklin said. “We don’t have to score every single drive. It’s not the end of the world to punt sometimes.”
The quarterback took the ball and drilled Geno Lewis for a 53-yard gain on the first play.
And watching from the sideline, the defense saw Penn State score with 1:13 left to take a 13-10 lead.
“As soon as Geno caught that first long pass, I was like, ‘Man, we might win this game,’” Hull said.
The defense ensured Penn State had a shot despite offensive struggles all night.