Mike Gesicki watched from the sideline in Pasadena as Southern California kicker Matt Boermeester stomped on Penn State’s Rose Bowl dreams. The Trojans stormed the field after a walk-off 46-yard field goal almost a year ago today, as the Nittany Lions were left to pick up the pieces.
“Once that field goal went through the uprights, I remember the confetti flying out, knowing that it wasn’t ours,” Gesicki said Thursday. “The season just ended real quick. Just like that.”
The heart-sinking moment is forever etched in Gesicki’s mind, and he’s not alone. Penn State’s 52-49 defeat in last year’s Rose Bowl sticks with the Nittany Lions. So much so that the Nittany Lions feel as if Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl is an opportunity to right a wrong.
Last year’s New Year’s Six loss soured a stellar season. The Nittany Lions are determined not to allow that to happen again.
“When you’re not successful in that last game,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said, “it leaves a bad taste in your mouth and a lot of hurt feelings.”
Franklin said last year’s Rose Bowl loss won’t have a “significant impact” on team — but his players beg to differ.
The Nittany Lions aren’t necessarily dwelling on the past. As Gesicki said, “What’s done is done.” But Gesicki acknowledged that the initial feeling of defeat — walking off the field as USC celebrated at Penn State’s expense — is “something you remember.”
Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, who forced a decisive fourth-quarter interception to set up Boermeester’s game-winning kick, agreed with Gesicki.
McSorley doesn’t get hung up on the late-game pick. But on Thursday morning, a couple days away from a second-straight New Year’s Six bowl appearance, the quarterback couldn’t help but think what could’ve been.
What if Penn State closed the Trojans out? What if the Nittany Lions were the ones hooting and hollering in Pasadena?
Well, they wouldn’t have felt so down about a magical campaign, that’s for sure.
“Last year, we win the Big Ten, have a rollercoaster year that no one really saw happening, and no one would’ve thought we’d be in the playoff conversation,” McSorley remembered. “As great of a season as we had last year — we won the Big Ten, get to the Rose Bowl, one of the most memorable Rose Bowls in recent history, and we come out on the losing end of it — you walk away from the year as a whole with that being the last thing you remember, losing in the Rose Bowl.”
McSorley, a true freshman back in 2014, said the exuberance experienced after Penn State’s Pinstripe Bowl victory “felt like we won the national championship.”
“We didn’t even have that feeling even when we did win the Big Ten,” McSorley added. “The bowl game is what you remember. That’s how you remember how the year went.”
That is what makes Saturday so important.
Penn State fell short of College Football Playoff expectations. The Nittany Lions ultimately wanted to play in the semifinals, not the Fiesta Bowl.
But Gesicki, McSorley and the Nittany Lions remember that post-Rose Bowl feeling all too well.
When confetti falls at University of Phoenix Stadium on Saturday night, Penn State wants it to feel differently than it did in Pasadena.
“That’s what’s special about this group of guys,” senior cornerback Grant Haley said. “We know what happened last year. We’re excited to go out there and finish this one off with a win.”