Trace McSorley gazed across the student section, inhaling and exhaling, holding back tears. Standing next to teammate Amani Oruwariye, No. 9 didn’t utter a word. He soaked in the moment. One he’d never forget.
At that time, fittingly, “Graduation” by Vitamin C played. And as McSorley and his fellow seniors started their victory lap, the 12 words exiting the stadium speakers carried weight.
As we go on, we remember, all the times we, had together.
Saturday night was not see you later. It was McSorley’s good-bye to Beaver Stadium. And, boy, was it a proper send-off.
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McSorley accounted for 294 yards (230 passing, 64 rushing) and three touchdowns in a 38-3 rout of Maryland. He rushed for two first-half scores — the first a goal-line burst, the second a vintage 20-yard dash through the heart of Maryland’s defense. The fifth-year senior — a former three-star, under-recruited prospect out of Virginia — capped his career with a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Pat Freiermuth.
McSorley’s final pass in Beaver Stadium went for six. A walk-off homer, for a kid who’s hit dingers his whole career. Go figure.
On Penn State’s next possession, the Nittany Lions up 31-3 with nine minutes to go, McSorley handed off to Ricky Slade for a 7-yard gain. Then, QB 1 slowly walked over to the Penn State bench, hugged head coach James Franklin and ceded the field to Tommy Stevens. It was time for a curtain call and a standing ovation.
“It’s hard to really say what was going through my mind at that point,” McSorley recalled after the game. “It was just a ton of appreciation for the love the fans were showing. Just trying to take everything in. That’s all it was. Just looking at everything. ... Just being humble with it and taking it with a sense of gratitude.”
Oruwariye and teammates were standing there next to Franklin, waiting to embrace their friend and leader.
“I just told him I loved him,” Oruwariye said.
Added Franklin: “He’s earned that. ... I don’t know if you could have written a better script for that senior class.”
For McSorley, Saturday’s script started with Senior Day introductions. After hearing his name called, McSorley jogged out to the turf and embraced his mother, Andrea, his father, Rick, his sister, Micaela, and his girlfriend. McSorley said in that moment, he was “trying to remember little details” so that one day he’ll be able to look back and reflect.
“I wasn’t too emotional until I saw my mom,” McSorley said with a smile. “Whenever you see your mom with tears in her eyes, it hits a little harder.”
That’s how the afternoon began. And the day’s script closed with the seniors’ lap around Beaver Stadium.
McSorley, Oruwariye, Koa Farmer, Nick Scott, Mark Allen and Johnathan Thomas strolled down the Penn State sideline and toward the north end zone, some locking arms, others leaving their hands free to clap and wave. Fans from 20 rows up bolted down to the railing to get a closer look and make sure their voices were heard.
One man, wearing a blue and white Penn State cowboy hat, yelled to McSorley, “You saved us! You saved us!” Others simply chanted, “Thank you, Trace. Thank you, Trace.”
Sure, the fans who stayed were thanking McSorley for Saturday night, a classic performance in Penn State’s regular-season finale. But they were praising him for more than a 35-point win against Maryland. They were thanking McSorley for a Big Ten Championship. For a Fiesta Bowl title. For a trip to the Rose Bowl, 31 wins and countless memories. For all the times he got hit, picked himself up and came back swinging.
The cheers were for a kid who was doubted from Day One and proved everyone wrong one gutty first down, one stunning score after another. McSorley — the winningest quarterback in program history, the gunslinger with the most passing yards, passing touchdowns and now completions in a Penn State career — high-fived fans, hugged Franklin’s young daughters and held his right hand high, saluting those who stuck around.
But when the seniors completed their lap, when Scott, Farmer, Oruwariye and Allen went over to ring the victory bell, McSorley stopped short. He went down on one knee in the south end zone, put his head in his left hand and stayed in that statue-esque pose for 20 seconds. Then, he dropped down in pushup position and kissed the Beaver Stadium grass.
It was McSorley’s final farewell.
“Obviously, there are things I want back,” McSorley said, leaning back in his chair, reminiscing already on his career, the impact he made in five years in Happy Valley. “There are moments and opportunities that we missed on. But all in all, to be able to leave Beaver Stadium like this with a win, I’m satisfied.”