WEST LAFAYETTE — The most important play of No. 24 Penn State’s 62-24 blowout of Purdue here Saturday was strongly influenced by a lucky “break” for the Nittany Lions.
The contest was actually tied 17-17 at intermission, and the Boilermakers opened the second half with the ball. At the time, the Nittany Lion defense featured an interesting man at Mike linebacker — backup Brandon Smith.
Smith saw spot action in the first half to give first-teamer Jason Cabinda a break. And after getting the starting nod in the third quarter, Smith came through with an interception of a David Blough pass and returned it 22 yards to the Boilermaker 24.
The Lions scored four plays later and dominated the rest of the game.
Afterward, Smith admitted that he just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
“Actually, I wasn’t supposed to be starting in the second half,” he said. “Cabinda was having a problem with his facemask, and he told me right before the kickoff, ‘B, you’re gonna have to go in there.’ So thank you to Jason for allowing me to go in.
“It was very nice of him and it worked out,” Smith added. “He was excited for me.”
But that only starts to explain why PSU was lucky there. Cabinda has played the last two weeks with a cast on his left hand. Though he finished with a team-high nine tackles Saturday, even he was not sure he would have been able to intercept a pass.
“To me, that’s just God’s work,” Cabinda said. “I was wearing the club, and who knows if I would have come down with it?”
Cabinda actually broke his facemask on PSU’s first defensive series in the game (see photo below). But he did not tell the equipment staff about it until halftime, so he had to wait while they fixed it.
“I just forgot to say anything (until the half), to be honest,” Cabinda said, laughing.