STATE COLLEGE — Amani Oruwariye wanted him to throw it. Which, given how the previous three-and-a-half hours of the day had gone, was a questionable thought.
Making his first career start, Appalachian State quarterback Zac Thomas had morphed into Baker Mayfield, torching Penn State’s defense for 270 yards and two scores including some of the prettiest throws possible.
But with the game on the line in overtime, Oruwariye — a fifth-year senior cornerback with the most career interceptions on the squad — did his best to get the ball thrown his way. In the end zone, no less.
“I was in Cover 3 and I kind of baited the quarterback,” Oruwariye said. “Looking at the (receiver), showing him man (coverage). Even took a restep to it. Ultimately I opened my hips, got to the little vertical seam and made a play on it.”
A play that rescued Penn State’s season just as it was starting.
Oruwariye’s interception in the end zone finally turned back the Mountaineers’ dogged upset attempt.
His head coach never saw it.
“I didn’t,” James Franklin said. “There was so much noise going on in the headset I didn’t know if it was an incomplete pass. There was confusion on the headset, but then the way the fans reacted and all our players started running on the field I said, we must’ve intercepted it I guess.”
“I just want to give all the credit to App State,” Oruwariye said. “They played a hard game. They fought. We fought. Just glad we came out on top.”
• A surprise absence for the Lions at kickoff was starting defensive tackle Kevin Givens, a junior who is far and above the Lions’ most experienced player at a thin position.
“It’s a violation of team rules, and I’m going to leave it at that,” Franklin said. “There’s no doubt (his absence) was a factor today” as the Mountaineers finished the game with a whopping 451 yards despite having only 97 at halftime.
In his place, redshirt freshman Fred Hansard got the nod in his first career collegiate game, lining up next to Robert Windsor in the middle.
• Junior Jonathan Holland took the first snaps at tight end as the Lions try to cobble together a committee approach to replace Mike Gesicki. He and Danny Dalton combined for three catches for 38 yards.
• Others in the starting lineup for the first time included DE Yetur Gross-Matos, WR KJ Hamler, LB Jan Johnson, C Michal Menet, Oruwariye, and S Garrett Taylor.
• Despite initially coming out for some work in warm-ups and suiting up for the game, quarterback Tommy Stevens spent the day on the sideline after missing a chunk of camp with a lower-body injury.
• Sophomore defensive end Shane Simmons and true freshman wideout Justin Shorter — both of whom Franklin described as “dinged up” earlier in the week — did not dress for the game. Simmons remains in a walking boot.
• Also out of action for another opener was junior tight end Nick Bowers, who has battled injuries throughout his career.
• Junior cornerback John Reid played for the first time since the Rose Bowl at the end of the 2016 season after sitting out 2017 with a serious knee injury.
He started the game but didn’t finish it. Reid was not on the field late as App State smashed through for four touchdowns in the fourth quarter, nor was he on the field for the lone defensive series in overtime.
An update on his status was not immediately available after the game.
Penn State had eight true freshmen see the field in the season-opener — K Rafael Checa, TE Pat Freiermuth, LB Jesse Luketa, DT PJ Mustipher, LB Micah Parsons, K Jake Pinegar, RB Ricky Slade and DE Nick Tarburton.
A new NCAA rule allows players to appear in up to four games without losing a year of eligibility. Franklin had said earlier in the week that seven of those players — all except Tarburton — were already projected to play more than the four games and not redshirt, barring any setbacks.
Slade scored his first career touchdown, Pinegar connected on his only field goal and was perfect on extra points and Parsons had four tackles and a takeaway when he recovered a squib kick that deflected off an App State player.
Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse