White squad running back Nick Scott looked like he would be taken down for a loss in the backfield for another forgettable play Saturday.
But then he slipped free of Blue defensive tackle Anthony Zettel and raced 51 yards for a touchdown, accounting for White’s lone score and providing the highlight of the Blue-White Game at Beaver Stadium. Once he escaped Zettel, he got downfield and backed his way into the end zone to cut Blue’s lead to in the third quarter.
The redshirt freshman finished with 77 yards on nine carries Saturday.
“I like Nick a lot,” quarterback Christian Hackenberg said. “He’s a real explosive player. You saw he showed a lot of great athleticism towards the end there making sure he could finish the run and score. He’s a young guy who’s continuing to get better and earning his stripes.”
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Scott competed with fellow redshirt freshan Mark Allen behind starting back Akeel Lynch this spring. Penn State coach James Franklin reiterated Saturday that Scott has shown flashes — like that touchdown run — and Allen had a strong spring. Johnathan Thomas did not play Saturday and was limited throughout the spring, but Franklin said he’s hoping he’ll be ready to go in camp.
Blue cornerback Trevor Williams called Scott’s run a “fluke play” and said the defense told him he got lucky.
“We thought the play was dead,” Williams said. “But he got out and made a long run.”
Lynch, the team’s top back, had 50 yards rushing on nine carries, including a 22-yard touchdown run.
“I think Akeel’s going to have a great year,” offensive coordinator John Donovan said. “I can’t wait to see him play. I think he’s got a chance to be a workhorse.”
Lynch said it still hasn’t sunk in that he’s the starting running back.
“It probably won’t hit me until I’m eight carries in one drive and I’m like,” Lynch said as he took a deep breath, “I’m in here.
The announced estimated crowd for the game was 68,000 fans, the fifth-largest in the spring game’s history. With no tickets, an exact count is difficult, but the lower bowl was mostly full all the way around Beaver Stadium.
With free parking and admission, sunshine, temperatures in the 70s and a 4 p.m. kickoff, there were plenty of reasons for fans to turn out and stretch out the tailgate party. It was also estimated an additional 18,000 stayed in the parking lots to party and didn’t venture into the stadium.
“I am unbelievably appreciative,” coach James Franklin said, “and it was a great environment.”
Franklin said he visited the fans in the RV lots Friday night to thank them for coming to town.
Penn State recognized four players Saturday for their performance during spring practice.
Defensive end Garrett Sickels earned the Jim O’Hora Award, given to a defensive player for loyalty and attitude. Offensive lineman Brendan Mahon won the Red Worrell Award, which is awarded to an offensive player who has best demonstrated exemplary conduct, loyalty, interest, attitude and improvement during spring practice.
Tight end Adam Breneman and tight end Dom Salomone were given the Frank Patrick Memorial “Total Commitment” Award.
Kicker Joey Julius took the Coaches Special Team Award, presented to a specialist who demonstrated loyalty, interest, attitude and improvement in spring practice.
In the kicking competition before the game, Joey Julius and Tyler Davis battled to the final kicks from 59 yards.
Each hit six field goals with the longest 55 yards. They kicked from distances of 37, 42, 47, 52, 55, 58 and 59 yards. Both missed their attempts from 58 and 59 yards.
Franklin has been impressed by Julius’ power.
“I’ve been very, very pleased with his leg strength,” Franklin said. “You saw it on the kickoff, but there’s still a lot of things fundamentally that we have to get cleaned up. I thought he had a good spring. I thought he showed that today. I thought all of his kickoffs were eight, nine yards deep.”
Chris Gulla hit a 25-yard field goal in the second quarter to give the Blue team a 10-0 lead.
Still the one
A number of former Nittany Lions were in Beaver Stadium on Saturday, but one in particular drew a major reaction from the crowd.
Defensive tackle Devon Still was the honorary captain for the game. The Cincinnati Bengal’s 4-year-old daughter, Leah, has had a very public battle with cancer. The Bengals kept the 2011 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year on the roster last fall, even while he was concentrating on his daughter’s fight instead of football, so he could keep health care insurance.
The Beaver Stadium crowd gave a roar when it was announced Leah’s cancer was in remission.
Another in the fold
Penn State picked up a big recruiting commitment Saturday afternoon, with defensive back Zechariah McPhearson choosing the Nittany Lions.
A number of recruiting sites reported the commitment, and McPhearson Tweeted “Officially committed to Penn State” along with a picture of him posing with Franklin.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound junior, rated as a four-star recruit by several services, is from Upper Marlboro, Md., and Riverdale Baptist High School. He was one of dozens of recruits in the stadium Saturday for unofficial visits.
McPhearson’s older brother, Josh, just joined the team as a junior college transfer wide receiver.
The halftime show had a little extra horsepower. NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon’s car was driven onto the field at intermission, and it also was on display outside the stadium before the game with some fans getting the chance to take a seat inside the car.
The No. 24 Penn State-Axalta car will be driven at the June NASCAR stop at Pocono Raceway. Axalta Coating Systems, which will sponsor the race, has entered into a partnership supporting engineering and business students.
Gordon unveiled the car on campus Wednesday, taking a drive up and down Curtin Road. He was not at Saturday’s game, instead in Bristol, Tenn., for this weekend’s race, but he gave a pre-taped message to the crowd as his car was driven around the south end of the stadium.
Wisniewski signs with Jags
A former Nittany Lion also made news Saturday, with center Stefan Wisniewski agreeing to a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars, according to NFL.com.
After four seasons with the Oakland Raiders, making 61 starts after being drafted in the second round, Wisniewski switches coasts and will be greeted by a number of familiar faces. The team also features former Nittany Lion receiver Allen Robinson, linebacker Paul Posluszny and defensive lineman Jared Odrick.