By Sam Bush
For Penn State placekicker Sam Ficken, yesterday’s 31-30 victory over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl was also a personal vindication.
The low was when Ficken missed four of five field goals in the second game of Bill O’Briwn’s coaching tenure, a 17-16 loss to Virginia in 2012.
And the high was yesterday’s field goal with 20 seconds left (photo above) that sent the game into overtime and then the PAT that won the Pinstripe Bowl.
“It’s a storybook ending, really” Ficken said after the win. “I couldn’t have written a better way for it to go.
“This team has worked so hard, fought through so much, and to say; we made it to a bowl, first off, we won the bowl, that’s really incredible.”
His journey has been, as well, even down to using former Yankees’ great Derek Jeter’s locker on game day. Ficken’s bookended 2014 seasons with a winning kick in Ireland and another in Yankee Stadium.
The kicker’s book is unique: there is the chapter on a special kind of uncertainty, and angst, for games, and months, each and every time Ficken trotted out for a field goal or extra point attempt. But then, something changed, and a new chapter began. The struggling sophomore turned into a sure-thing midway through his junior year, connecting on a program record 15 straight at one point and booting a 54-yarder against Kent State.
This year, the chapter was similar. While Ficken’s NFL aspirations would have been laughed out of a room two years ago, it now seems to be a near certainty that, at the very least, he will be invited to an NFL camp. He finished his final season 24 of 29, including a perfect 45-yard boot here with 20 seconds to play that sent the game into overtime.
“I love Sam,” head coach James Franklin said. “He’s been that way all year long. He’s probably been our best offensive weapon all year long, he really has.
“Sam has been consistent as any player in our program from the day we arrived.”
Next year, a new player will have to arrive, as Ficken’s suddenly-big shoes will have to be replaced. Lower Dauphin product Joey Julius could be in line for the job, as could any other of walk on kickers currently listed on the program roster.
It would have seemed unlikely, and improbable, to consider Ficken’s graduation a blow to the program on the Scott Stadium turf at Virginia just two years ago. Yet, that’s exactly what it will be.
Fittingly, in his final contest, he delivered the knockout blow to Boston College.
“The holds were perfect all day,” Ficken said. “Not a whole lot of pressure. It was good.
“We’ve been so clutch in field goals, the whole unit. We’ve done a good job on extra points all year.”