Happy Valley of the Sun indeed, Nittany Nation! It may not quite be on the level of that game-winning interception of 1987 in the Arizona desert, but the image of Mr. Reliable, a fifth-year senior and former walk-on Brandon Smith, cradling the wayward lateral that dashed all hopes for the Huskies is one that will carry us deep into the off-season and beyond. Credit Washington for hanging in there and making this one a nail-biter, but in the end, Penn State was just too strong and walked away from the 2017 Fiesta Bowl champions, with a 35-28 win.
As for the Game Ball, and Helmet Stickers, it’s impossible to single out just one when so many had a hand in such a successful end to the 2017 campaign. Smith stepped in one last time for an ailing linebacker corps and turned in one last monster performance before heading off to medical school. The Wizard, QB Trace McSorley (the game’s MVP) lit the highly touted Husky D up like a Christmas tree and enters his senior season toting the hashtag #HappyValleyHeisman2.0 for good reason. King ‘Quon, Happy Valleys Heisman 1.0, spent the afternoon doing ‘Saquon Stuff’ once again, including a signature 92-yard burst into the end-zone late in the 2nd quarter to go along with his one-yarder in the first. The much-maligned O-Line, aka The Big Handsomes, controlled the trenches and made the top-ranked defense against the run look anything but. Senior record-holding wideout, DaeSean Hamilton, scored twice and pulled in a clutch third-down pass in his swan song as a Nittany Lion and Juwan Johnson extended a few drives with some clutch catches of his own that remind us all how bright the future looks.
It may be awhile before we forget former OC Joe Moorhead, but Ricky Rahne took a huge first step by calling a masterful game in his first foray holding the keys to the Penn State offensive juggernaut. After dabbling with a head coach opening or two of his own, defensive coordinator Brent Pry and his defense, led by seniors Marcus Allen (the game’s Defensive MVP), Jason Cabinda, and Grant Haley, put the brakes on the high-powered Husky O, save for a couple trick plays, a long run in the fourth quarter and a little help from the refs. The man that put it all together, of course, head coach James FrankLion, probably deserves a little credit himself for, you know, putting it all together and some consideration should probably go to us as well for flooding the Valley of the Sun in Blue and White and answering our coach’s call to bring a WhiteOut to Arizona. Yep, the choices are plenty for Game Balls and Helmet Stickers but as we put the bow on the 2017 season, Game Balls and Helmet Stickers go to everyone that had a hand in its roaring success.
As I made my journey home from the Valley of the Sun, I did so with one word emblazoned across my chest: UNRIVALED. It’s the first time since James Franklin first coined the term way back in January 2014 that it rang with truth. He brought a vision with him to Happy Valley and although there’s still room to grow, that vision has finally come to fruition. Penn State finished 11-2 and fell a measly 4 points short from the steps of greatness, but being crowned Fiesta Bowl Champs is nearly as close as it gets to being UNRIVALED heading into the new year.