PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Penn State welcomed Rutgers to the Big Ten here Saturday night, spotting the Scarlet Knights a 10-0 lead before roaring back in the final 19 minutes to pull out a 13-10 victory.
The Nittany Lions improved to 3-0 overall and 1-0 in the conference after the first Big Ten game of the season. More importantly, they once again stamped themselves as an outfit that is never really out of a game.
Not when the offense struggles for most of the night, and star QB Christian Hackenberg is sacked five times and hit many more. Not when the special teams allow a blocked punt and field goal. And not when the opposing team draws the largest crowd (53,774) in the history of its home stadium.
I'm just so proud of these kids, of the whole organization, first-year coach James Franklin said. Because they persevere. We've been talking about perseverance with what this whole program and this whole community and this whole university has been through, and I think this team exemplifies that.
They're gritty, they're hard-nosed, he added. They never stop believing in themselves.
And, once again bowl eligible, they are now three wins away from securing their first post-season bid since 2011.
Here is how the game went down.
MAN OF THE HOUR: Though he was seriously beaten up, Hackenberg engineered yet another game-winning drive. This one covered 80 yards in six plays and ended with Bill Belton's five-yard TD run.
CLOSE SECOND: Much-maligned CB Trevor Williams set the tone for the Penn State defense with two of the team's five interceptions.
CLOSE THIRD: WR Geno Lewis made two huge catches on the game-winning drive, one a 53-yard catch and run and the other a 23-yarder on third-and-12.
TURNING POINT: Lewis' 53-yard catch on first-and-10 from the PSU 20 with just over three minutes remaining sent a collective uh-oh through the High Point Solutions Stadium crowd.
SOLID STRATEGY: Penn State blitzed RU QB Gary Nova frequently and, after some early success, he cracked. The five picks killed the Scarlet Knights.
NUMBERS GAME: Penn State had one turnover and no interceptions in its first two games. Then it goes and makes five picks Saturday.
BUSINESS AS USUAL: LB Mike Hull had nine more tackles for the Lions.
SPECIAL DELIVERY: Not a great average for P Chris Gulla, in part because of the block. But he did place three punts inside the 20.
WHAT'S UP WITH?
Franklin having Hackenberg quick kick on fourth-and-14 from the RU 38 in the fourth quarter. He shanked a five-yarder. Too cute.
Penn State's special teams imploding in the first half. The Scarlet Knights blocked K Sam Ficken's 34-yard field goal attempt and later got a hand on a Gulla punt that fluttered 14 yards.
The O-line playing its worst half of the season through the first two quarters here Saturday. It struggled opening holes for the running game (16 carries, 23 yards), and allowed Hackenberg to be sacked twice and hit multiple times. RU also had fives tackles behind the line in the half.
Penn State going to the Wildcat on second-and-10 from the RU 30 on the opening drive of the game. Belton was thrown for a two-yard loss that pushed the Lions out of field goal range and stalled the drive (Hackenberg missed WR DaeSean Hamilton on third down.) If James Franklin is wondering why fans hate the Wildcat, calls like this one are the reason.
GRINDING IT OUT: Belton finished with 36 yards and the score on 15 carries. He also caught four passes for 52 yards.
HIDDEN HERO: S Ryan Keiser snuffed out RU's last drive with an interception. That's three game-clinchers in his career.
LOST IN THE SHUFFLE: DT Anthony Zettel had four tackles, but three of them were in the backfield.
DID YOU NOTICE?
Hackenberg being extremely animated coming off the field after he was sacked on a third-and-12 early in the second quarter. He appeared to be angry with RB Zach Zwinak's blocking (or lack thereof).
Hamilton had a heavily wrapped right calf. But he started the game and finished with eight catches for 103 yards.
The referee was longtime Penn State nemesis Dave Witvoet. And you thought he retired?
UNANSWERED QUESTION: How much of a blow was this for the rivalry-starved Rutgers fans?