NEW YORK — Lacking the finishing kick that proved to be their undoing in the regular season, the Boston College football team fell in overtime to Penn State, 31-30, in the Pinstripe Bowl before a sold-out Yankee Stadium crowd of 49,012 on Saturday.
The Eagles (7-6), who failed in their bid to win eight games for the first time since 2009, were victimized by an all-too-familiar flaw: the lack of a sure-footed kicker.
Freshman Mike Knoll snap-hooked a routine point-after attempt in overtime wide right after David Dudeck’s serpentine 21-yard TD catch and run from Tyler Murphy gave BC a 30-24 lead.
It opened the door for Penn State (7-6) to earn their pinstripes when senior Sam Ficken, who helped the team open the season in Dublin with a dramatic winning kick against Central Florida, capped the Nittany Lions’ season in similar dramatic fashion.
Ficken sent the game into OT when he converted a 45-yard field goal that made it 24-24 with 20 seconds left in regulation. He punctuated the victory when he followed Christian Hackenberg’s 10-yard TD pass to tight end Kyle Carter by making a routine PAT that triggered a wild celebration.
“Who could have drew it up better than that?’’ said Penn State coach James Franklin, who presided over the program’s return to postseason play after an NCAA-mandated bowl ban.
“The way the guys persevered all season, wasn’t always pretty, but we stuck together, and to me that’s who we are, a blue-collar, hard-nosed program.’’
For BC, it resulted in yet another end-of-game kick in the gut.
“When you lose a game in overtime like that,’’ BC coach Steve Addazio said, “the obvious thing to look at is the way we lost it, the bitter end. There will be plays along the way that could have changed the tale of that game. But if you play that game right now, then you’ll drive yourself absolutely insane.’’
This season, Knoll, Joey Launceford, and Alex Howell were all stymied at one point or another by a stunning lack of accuracy on PATs, combining to miss seven PATs in the first 12 games.
“We’ve had a lot of difficulties through the year on extra points and field goals,’’ Addazio said. “So we started with those issues and we ended with those issues and it’s my job to get them fixed, and that’s what I’m going to do.’’
Knoll was good on his first field goal attempt, converting from 20 yards right down Broadway that enabled BC to take a 24-21 lead with 2:10 remaining.
What made the end result more maddening were the stellar performances from Murphy and freshman running back Jonathan Hilliman, who combined to rush for 253 of BC’s 386 yards of total offense.
Murphy went down in a dual-threat hail of glory. The senior completed 11 of 19 passes for 97 yards and a pair of touchdowns and rushed 11 times for 105 yards and a 40-yard TD that enabled BC to take a 21-7 lead with 2:12 left in the third quarter.
“That was tough to have fought so hard go into overtime and not to get the win is very disappointing,’’ Murphy said. “It’s even worse because there’s a lot of goodbyes and I’m definitely going to miss being a part of this program.’’
Hilliman gashed Penn State’s vaunted defense — which came in ranked No. 1 against the rush — for 148 yards on 25 carries, including a 49-yard TD run with 4:39 left in the first quarter that tied the score at 7.
“This is a game for the seniors and it’s kind of tough not to end it on the right note for them, especially [because] in the beginning . . . we had them pretty well,’’ Hilliman said. “We just couldn’t finish and those are the things we’ve got to get corrected in the offseason.’’
The Eagles began to unravel when Hackenberg (34 of 50, 371 yards, 4 TDs) capped a six-play, 63-yard drive with a 7-yard TD toss to Eugene Lewis, a pass that was deflected at the goal line by BC’s Justin Simmons. Lewis made the catch to pull Penn State within 21-14 with one second to play in the third quarter.
After BC was unable to generate any offense on its first two possessions of the fourth quarter, Penn State mounted a six-play, 55-yard drive that culminated with Hackenberg’s third touchdown pass of the game, this one a 16-yard strike to DaeSean Hamilton on a skinny post route that threaded through the outstretched hands of diving BC safety Ty-Meer Brown.
With 6:41 remaining, the Eagles answered by going 69 yards in 11 plays, the biggest of which was a 7-yard run by Hilliman after which 10 more yards were tacked on for Adrian Amos’s late hit. The drive culminated with Knoll’s go-ahead field goal.
Ficken tied the score with 20 seconds to go, extending it into overtime, where the Eagles absorbed one last kick in the mouth.
“What I said to the team in there, really my takeaway, was we have a tough team, a team that battles, a great foundation here in our program,’’ Addazio said. “We just have to learn how to finish and close games. We’ve had more than our share of them this season, which we’ve lost on a last drive, last play.
“That’s the next step that our program has to take.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.