The catch itself was easy. It’s the two-plus years that led up to it that made it special.
Nick Bowers went out for a route from the Nebraska 15-yard line. He was bumped briefly by a linebacker at the line of scrimmage before being released for the secondary to deal with.
Except there was no one there to pick up the Penn State tight end, as the safety in the vicinity had his eye on Brandon Polk waiting in the left flat for a screen pass.
So all quarterback Tommy Stevens had to do was float a ball to Bowers, who caught it inside the 5 and strolled in for the score.
First career catch. First career touchdown.
“I’d seen, before I even snapped the ball, that I thought I had a shot to get him the ball,” said Stevens, who ran over and jumped on top of Bowers after the play. “I’m just happy he was open. It felt like the ball was in the air forever. But I was happy to see him come down with it, score a touchdown. I know he had a lot of family here (for the game).
“Couldn’t happen to a better guy.”
Bowers reached the back of the end zone, gave the sign of the cross and pointed to the sky. It was a long time coming.
Now in his third year on campus, Bowers has spent much of his time with the Nittany Lions recovering from a lower body injury.
Penn State typically keeps injury specifics under wraps, but this was enough to keep Bowers out of action for all of 2016 after redshirting in 2015.
“Nick’s a guy people probably aren’t talking about enough,” Lions coach James Franklin said prior to the season. “We were as excited about him as anyone in our program before he had some health issues.”
Bowers still wasn’t 100 percent ready to go at the start of the 2017 campaign and didn’t dress until the second month of the season.
When he was finally able to suit up, he made his first game appearance late in a win at Northwestern. Likewise, he didn’t see the field until the fourth quarter against Rutgers and Nebraska, leading up to his touchdown.
Bowers was not made available for interviews after the game. But his teammates were eager to speak for him.
“Oh, man,” starting tight end Mike Gesicki said at the first mention of Bowers’ name. “That’s my roommate. His room’s right next to mine. He’s been just scratching, waiting for that opportunity to get on the field. He finally gets his first pass, it’s in the pouring rain, it’s a touchdown from Tommy.
“… After he came off (the field), I just gave him a hug, told him I was really proud of him and told him I loved him. There’s nothing like the first touchdown. And for him to do it on his first catch is even more incredible.”
Like Bowers, Stevens is a redshirt freshman who arrived in Happy Valley at the same time.
“(The touchdown) was awesome. There’s not very many guys that are better people than Nick Bowers,” Stevens said. “I was so proud of him.”
Listed at 6-foot-4, 268 pounds, Bowers may remind more of the Paterno-era tight ends who were primarily blockers as opposed to targets in the passing game.
But his background is similar to that of Gesicki. While at Kittanning High School in the western half of the state, Bowers spent most of his time split out wide as a receiver.
That hasn’t stopped him from contributing in an area where the Lions could use some help, even in his limited playing time.
On the play before his touchdown, Bowers pulled to his right and cleared Nebraska starting linebacker Dedrick Young out of a hole on a run play, giving Miles Sanders room to burst through for a gain of 15.
It’s an encouraging sign for the Lions, who will have a huge hole to fill at the position when Gesicki — a finalist for the Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end — heads to the NFL. Also gone to graduation will be reserve Tom Pancoast.
Jonathan Holland has spent most of the season as the second-stringer, though he too has played sparingly. He did not suit up against Nebraska.
Bowers, Holland and redshirt freshman Danny Dalton are set to be joined by a pair of blue chip tight end recruits in Pat Freiermuth and Camp Hill’s Zack Kuntz.
Gesicki believes Saturday was a first step for Bowers to be part of the answer in 2018.
“I was so happy for him, and he deserves all of that,” Gesicki said. “And I think that’s just a small glimpse of what’s to come in the future for him.”