Franklin era begins! Penn State tops UCF 26-24 with last-second FG

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DUBLIN (AP) — Penn State won a thrilling season opener with a 36-yard field goal as time expired to defeat the University of Central Florida 26-24 in front of a raucous 55,000-strong crowd in Ireland.

Behind second-half replacement quarterback Justin Holman, the Knights appeared to have scored their own unlikely come-from-behind victory when Holman scored on a 6-yard touchdown run to put UCF up 24-23 with 1:13 left.

But Christian Hackenberg — capping a 32-for-47, 454-yard performance — coolly directed a seven-play drive to set up Sam Ficken’s fourth successful field goal as the Penn State bench swarmed the field.

Saturday’s winners received the Dan Rooney Trophy, a specially commissioned football made of ancient Irish bog wood, as cannons blasted blue-and-white streamers and confetti into the air at Dublin’s Croke Park, a stadium that normally hosts Gaelic football matches, not American football games.

Penn State Coach Football

Penn State’s new football coach, James Franklin, poses for photos after he was introduced Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, in State College, Pa. From left in back are Penn State athletic director David Joyner; Franklin; his wife, Fumi Franklin; and Penn State President Rodney Erickson. The Franklins’ children, Shola, 6, left, and Addison, 5, are in front. (AP Photo/John Beale)

Hackenberg spoiled a stunning performance by Holman, who came on for the second drive of the second half after coach George O’Leary benched the ineffective Pete DiNovo. The redshirt freshman was 3 of 8 for 18 yards.

Penn State ended the first half up 10-3, but should have been ahead by more as UCF struggled to move the ball at all. Both teams looked let-lagged in what was the first overseas game in either school’s history.

The Nittany Lions’ opening drive was extended by a roughing-the-kicker penalty, then Hackenberg dropped a 44-yard bomb between two defenders to receiver DaeSean Hamilton. Zach Zwinak finally punched the ball in from the 1-yard line on his third attempt to put Penn State up 7-0.

A 68-yard kickoff return by Jordan Akins gave UCF the ball on Penn State’s 23, but O’Leary gambled and lost with a 4th down decision to go for it on PSU’s 1-yard line. DiNovo’s rollout straight into a pass rush was doomed from the start and he threw the ball away.

UCF cornerback Jacoby Glenn made a diving interception on Hackenberg’s next possession, but the Knights could manage only a 36-yard Shawn Moffitt field goal to make the score 10-3.

The game tempo accelerated as soon as Holman entered the game. He ran for two touchdowns and threw for a third, a 10-yard bullet to Josh Reese with 11:31 left that narrowed Penn State’s lead to 20-17.

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