STATE COLLEGE — Penn State broke out for four second-half touchdowns to complement a strong effort on defense, dusting off Eastern Michigan 45-7 on Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
Christian Hackenberg became the first Penn State freshman to throw for 300 yards, shaking off a nervous first half in which he turned it over twice and handed the Eagles their only score.
Hackenberg finished 22-for-33 for 311 yards and a 45-yard touchdown to Allen Robinson.
The Lions run game also broke out in the second half as Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch each had 108 yards on the ground. Belton and Zach Zwinak (43 yards) each had two scores. Lynch added a TD of his own late in the fourth on the day the No. 22 he shares with John Cappelletti was scheduled for retirement.
The defense held Eastern to just 55 yards in the second half, building on a 17-7 lead at the break.
For full coverage of the win, check back to timesleader.com and see Sunday’s edition of The Times Leader.
Just like that, Penn State has buried Eastern Michigan.
The Nittany Lions scored two quick touchdowns to open the fourth quarter to grab a commanding 38-7 lead over the Eagles.
Christian Hackenberg stepped up and found a wide-open Allen Robinson for a 45-yard touchdown and Bill Belton followed it up with a 51-yard dash through a huge hole up the middle of the field.
Hackenberg is over 300 yards passing, setting a new Penn State record for a freshman. Zack Mills hit 280 yards twice as a redshirt freshman in 2001.
Belton topped 100 yards on his touchdown run, setting a new career-high.
Sluggish on offense to start the second half, the Lions defense creates great field position to set up Zach Zwinak’s second score of the day to give Penn State a 24-7 lead over Eastern Michigan after three quarters.
A sack by defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, leading the team in tackles for a second straight week, brings up a punt that gives the Lions the ball at the Eagles’ 33.
Christian Hackenberg is sacked twice, but Zwinak gains 20 yards on third-and-24 to convince Bill O’Brien to keep the offense on the field for fourth down.
Hackenberg hits Brandon Felder out in the left flat for the conversion and Zwinak rumbles off of left tackle on the very next play for the touchdown and a three-score lead for the Lions.
It was an eventful halftime for Penn State, which bestowed an unprecedented honor.
With the undefeated 1973 team on the field to celebrate its 40th anniversary, Penn State held a ceremony for Heisman winner John Cappelletti to retire his No. 22 jersey.
It is the first number to be retired in the program’s 126 seasons.
With Cappelletti’s blessing, redshirt freshman running back Akeel Lynch will continue to wear No. 22 for as long as he wants. But the number will not be issued in the future.
Cappelletti remains the only Penn State player to win the Heisman. He was presented with a framed jersey as part of the halftime honors.
A year ago this week, Sam Ficken was being tormented by fans on social media after missing four kicks and an extra point in a one-point loss at Virginia.
One year later, the junior has set a new Penn State record for consecutive made field goals.
Ficken connected from 39 yards out to give the Nittany Lions a 17-7 lead over Eastern Michigan at halftime. It was his 14th straight make, dating back to last season. The kick breaks a record set by Craig Fayak, who hit 13 in a row in the 1992 season.
He almost didn’t get the chance to attempt it.
Christian Hackenberg had the Lions moving in a two-minute drill and had a shot to close the drive with a touchdown. Fellow true freshman Richy Anderson streaked wide open several yards behind the defense at the right sideline, but Hackenberg couldn’t make the connection, putting the pass too far out in front of his receiver.
Two holding calls also derailed what looked to be a promising drive before halftime.
Hackenberg is 15-of-22 for 207 yards but also has two turnovers, fumbling it away for an Eagles touchdown and throwing an interception in EMU territory during the second quarter.
That didn’t take long.
Christian Hackenberg has found his sea legs and commanded a Penn State drive out of Bill O’Brien’s no-huddle “NASCAR” package to give the Nittany Lions a 14-7 lead over Eastern Michigan early in the second quarter.
Looking much calmer, Hackenberg connected with Matt Zanellato and Jesse James for big gains to set up a pair of nice runs by Bill Belton. The junior tailback polished off the drive by making a man miss for a 5-yard touchdown.
It was Belton’s first rushing score in Beaver Stadium after scoring on a swing pass in last year’s home opener. He had three touchdowns last October against Iowa but spent much of November on the sideline.
Bill O’Brien isn’t about to shackle his freshman quarterback because of a poor start.
After handing Eastern Michigan a touchdown, Christian Hackenberg came out firing on the next drive, placing a well-thrown deep ball to Allen Robinson to set up a Penn State touchdown to tie the game 7-7 after one quarter.
Hackenberg hit top target Robinson for 43 yards on a diving catch. The play was upheld by replay.
That set up the Lions’ first rushing score of the season as Zach Zwinak crashed through a tackler on the right side for a 2-yard score to tie the game.
Making his first start at an NFL stadium didn’t seem to bother Christian Hackenberg. But the Lions quarterback looks every bit like a true freshman so far at Beaver Stadium.
Hackenberg fumbled while dropping back to pass on Penn State’s third drive, gift-wrapping an early 7-0 lead for Eastern Michigan late in the first quarter.
Hunter Matt scooped up the loose ball and returned it for an easy 11-yard score to stun the Nittany Lions in the early going.
Hackenberg looked shaky even before the fumble, starting 1-for-5 passing while overshooting his receivers.
And it could have been worse for the Lions. Eastern Michigan had lined up for a 45-yard field goal try on the previous drive but the snap was bobbled and Jordan Lucas was able to drop the holder in his tracks for a big loss.
Kyle Carter is in uniform. Mike Hull is not.
The sophomore tight end participated fully in warm-up and is expected to play as normal. Carter injured his left arm last week and is sporting a heavy black wrap on the arm during the pregame.
Hull, who suffered a knee injury against Syracuse, is not in uniform and will not play. As was the case last week, Ben Kline and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong are likely to see the most snaps in his place.
STATE COLLEGE — Penn State is gearing up for its 2013 home opener against Eastern Michigan, and The Times Leader is live at Beaver Stadium to provide updates throughout the day.
The Nittany Lions and Eagles will kickoff at noon, with the Big Ten Network carrying the broadcast. Penn State will be looking to erase memories of last season’s loss in the home opener to another MAC school in Ohio.
Penn State is coming off of a 23-17 win over Syracuse in last week’s debut and have a good chance to work out the kinks in their game against the Eagles.
The Lions struggled to get the run game going against Syracuse in large part because the Orange stacked the box to put the pressure on true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg to win the game.
He did just that, throwing second-half scores to Allen Robinson and Eugene Lewis as coach Bill O’Brien and the Lions have showed plenty of faith so far in the teenager.
The pregame storyline on Saturday morning will include the health of tight end Kyle Carter (arm) and linebacker Mike Hull (knee). Both players were considered day-to-day and could be given the week off as a precaution, especially given the opponent.
Regardless, the Lions will have plenty of true and redshirt freshmen seeing the field once again as the team tries to build up its depth with a roster handicapped by NCAA sanctions.
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