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21 Feet, Answered Prayer And A Last Second Win As Nittany Lions Beat Iowa 21-19

on September 24, 2017 12:19 AM

As Penn State's offense took the field with 1:42 to go, trailing by four points there was nothing Jason Cabinda could do. He was sick, almost unable to move, nearly buckling to his knees preparing to vomit.

Helpless and standing on the sideline the heart and soul of Penn State's defense could barely watch. There was no way he could help, no way to chip in. Penn State would win or it would lose, and he would have no part in those final seconds that would determine the outcome. He couldn't make a heroic interception and return it for a touchdown. He couldn't make a fourth down stop. All he could do was watch.

And pray.

"I prayed between every play," Cabinda said, still shaking his head. "Just praying to God that they get it down the field and just finish it."

In total Cabinda would say 12 prayers, each a little louder than the last. Each a little more forcefully. Each with a bit more hope that they might be heard. And they nearly weren't. Penn State marched the ball down the field but faced two different fourth down conversion attempts. The first with 58 seconds to play, the second with just four.

The final prayer came just seconds before Trace McSorley dropped back to pass and threaded the ball through through defenders to the outstretched arms of Juwan Johnson. Sixty minutes of football boiled down to four seconds and determined by fingertips.

"I thought it was tipped," Cabinda said. "I put my head down because I thought we had lost, and then our sideline started celebrating."

Prayers answered.

"I'm so excited that Trace threw it to me," Johnson said with a smile. "They had faith in me to call that play. It's just crazy how things work out. I'm excited for us."

It is hard to know just four weeks into the season how Penn State's 2017 campaign will unfold. The Nittany Lions are not without their flaws, nor without their potential achilles heel. Penn State is a variation of its 2016 self with an offense running through the heart and soul of Saquon Barkley and a defense equipped to bend but not break.

But it is hard to deny that Penn State's course is set for something special. Greatness is often not defined by dominance but the ability to overcome the humanity in sports, overcoming the imperfections. The New England Patriots have not become the standard in football because they win by 30, they have become the standard because they are hard to kill.

By all statistical measures Penn State should have won with far less effort than it took on Saturday night. The Hawkeyes, save a few plays, were uninspiring on offense and far from deceptive on defense. But the Nittany Lions struggled all the same.

McSorley wasn't as sharp as he can be, seeing passes tipped nearly every drive, and injuries on the offensive line did little to help a rushing attack that doesn't involve unleashing Barkley's own supernatural abilities. Missed field goals only compounding the issue of long drives ended with little to show for it.

On paper Penn State gained 579 yards of offense to Iowa's 273. Yet, in the way that Iowa does, the Hawkeyes hung around, and made the most of their limited chances. As Akrum Wadley galloped 35 yards with 1:42 to play to put Iowa up four points, it was hard to imagine a way out for Penn State, hard to imagine how the ride wasn't coming to an end like it had so many times before.

And then the ride didn't end. It's a drive that has instantaneously become a part of Penn State's history no matter how this season concludes. Twelve plays that could very well determine the course of the season. That could become the cornerstone to something far more special.

But for now it just kept the dream alive for Penn State at least another week, and for one linebacker another of keeping the faith.

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September 21, 2017 1:30 PM
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