WILKES-BARRE — Penn State fans were out in droves to cheer on their team during Saturday’s exciting 35-28 victory over Washington in the Fiesta Bowl.
Penn State Wilkes-Barre sponsored a party at River Grille on North River Street so local alumni could watch together. An estimated 100 were expected to turn out.
“Penn State is more than just a college. It’s a family,” said Jim Reino, of Shavertown, as he sat at the bar waiting for the game to start. Reino is a 1977 graduate and also serves on the advisory board at Penn State Wilkes-Barre. “I like to be in a festive atmosphere — watch the game with all the other fans,” he said.
Fun as that might have been, nothing beats the game experience itself.
Hazleton-area native Bob Bognet, who now resides in Los Angeles, traveled to Glendale, Arizona, to attend the game with siblings Christa and Jim and parents Patrice and James. His father, brother and sister are all alums and Bob himself graduated from Penn State in 2001 after a standout career as a kicker for Hazleton Area football. Brother Jim also kicked for Hazleton teams.
“Football is a family tradition,” said Bob. “Penn State is a family tradition.”
Bognet’s parents still reside in the Hazleton area and flew out for the game, as did many others from Northeastern Pennsylvania.
“It’s an electric atmosphere,” said Bob, standing outside the stadium. “There’s a ton of us here.” He said his hotel in downtown Phoenix was packed with fans from Avoca, Wilkes-Barre, and Scranton.
Even if Penn State had not won, Bob still would’ve considered it a “successful season.” He also heaped praise on Coach James Franklin for returning the Nittany Lions to national prominence on an annual basis.
“They’ve had another very good year,” agreed Anthony Shipula II, director of campus development and alumni relations at Penn State Wilkes-Barre. “They certainly could have been in the college playoffs I think.”
Penn State lost two heartbreaking games earlier in the season to Ohio State and Michigan State. Even though Shipula is not a graduate of the university, he’s still a big fan of the team.
Reino, meanwhile, feels this season proves Penn State has returned to being a dominating force in the world of college football. “One thing that was important for this season is that it put all the adversity of the last 10 years behind us,” he said. “The team and the whole fan base has bounced back.”
Penn State finished the season with a record of 11-2. Their final ranking has yet to be determined, but it’s guaranteed to be somewhere within the Top 10.