Trace McSorley’s first high school football game was a comeback win.
Of course it was.
“(It was) through a 2-minute drive at the end of the game, and got down to kick a field goal to win,” he said on a conference call this week.
According to the Virginia Preps account of the game, McSorley, then a freshman, drove his team 87 yards downfield and connected on a fourth-and-10 with 30 seconds to play, with Briar Woods down a point. The play set up a game-winning field goal.
“There were a couple other games that year where it was either a close contest or we were up by a little and had to run the clock out, some tight games,” he said.
But that was the quarterback’s first, and he followed that effort with a comeback win in his first state title game that same year. He went on to win three in four years, with appearances at all four.
Six years later, that original 2-minute drive came in handy.
Penn State trailed Minnesota by three points after a late field goal last Saturday night, and the Nittany Lions were driving with 54 seconds on the clock. McSorley connected with receiver Chris Godwin on third and 10 — Godwin pulled in the acrobatic catch but the team was still out of field goal range.
Three plays later, the redshirt sophomore quarterback scampered for a 26-yard first down, putting his still-perfect kicker in field goal range and ultimately forcing overtime.
His composure while doing so was striking for such a young player.
“That’s important for the sideline. That’s important for belief,” head coach James Franklin said on Tuesday. “That’s important to everything. I think he’s like that at practice. He’s like that in the games. He’s like that in his off-season workouts.”
McSorley led the team through a 17-point third quarter after ending the first half down 13-3. Penn State has a 38-point deficit in first-half scoring through five games, but a 26-point advantage in the second half.
“I think we are doing a good job of adjusting our game plan based on what we see in the first half,” said McSorley, who opened last weekend’s second half with an 80-yard touchdown strike to receiver Irvin Charles.
“Getting a good first drive and getting points on the board that first drive, that’s a big part of it. We know how important it is to start the second half strong and to be a second half team that can finish games out.”
McSorley is always first to laud his teammates — but he may very well be the ‘X’-factor.
According to college football statistics compiled by SportSource Analytics, McSorley is among the best in the nation when leading a comeback effort.
The quarterback is No. 9 in the FBS when down by a margin of 8-14 points, with 281 passing yards during that time. When down by a margin of 1-7 points, McSorley has thrown for 201 yards. He leads all Big Ten passers with 1,284 yards, and in third quarters this season has thrown for almost 500 yards, two touchdowns (he has six total) and a 163.08 quarterback rating. In the third quarter against Minnesota, he was 4 of 10 with 172 yards and a touchdown as well as a rushing touchdown.
Trace McSorley is No. 9 in the FBS when down by a margin of 8-14 points, with 281 passing yards during that time. When down by a margin of 1-7 points, McSorley has thrown for 201 yards. He leads all Big Ten passers with 1,284 yards, and in third quarters this season has thrown for almost 500 yards, two touchdowns and a 163.08 quarterback rating.
“He’s one of those guys that just takes that situation and runs with it no matter what the time is, the points, who we are playing, it doesn’t matter,” receiver DeAndre Thompkins said on Tuesday. “He stays in the moment, does the best he can and try to eliminate his mistakes. That carries on to the field obviously.”
Even as a backup to quarterback Christian Hackenberg, McSorley demanded much from his second-team squad during the two-minutes drills Penn State runs at practice.
“There’s a lot of belief in our team in Trace and there has been for two years; I’ve been telling you guys that,” Franklin said. “When we would do twos versus ones in two-minute drill at the end of practice, and Trace was out there with the twos going out against our one defense; you know, he had demanded a lot of respect from a lot of guys for a long time.”
McSorley is asking for extra work from the first team too, because Penn State continues to start sluggishly this season. He has begun organizing extra film sessions on Monday, the team’s off day, and other team leaders like running back Saquon Barkley and Godwin have followed suit.
“He’s one of those guys that he does all the little things right,” Franklin said. “And it’s been my experience that guys like that usually find a way to be successful.”