PISCATAWAY, New Jersey — Rutgers did everything in its Big Ten Conference debut against Penn State but win.
They competed. They led the lead most of the game. They played great defense. They just didn't finish in the final minutes.
Bill Belton scored on a 5-yard run with 1:13 to play and Penn State rallied from a 10-point deficit to post a 13-10 victory Saturday night, depriving the Scarlet Knights of what might have been one of their biggest wins in school history.
"There's still a lot of football left," Rutgers receiver Leonte Carroo said. "We had our game against Penn State and we didn't make history but we did set the tone and show that Rutgers is not going to be taken lightly. They might have thought they would come in here and blow us out. We played hard. I'm proud of my teammates. We just came up a little bit short."
"It didn't slip away, we just didn't play good football. We didn't get enough first downs," Nova said. "We put the defense in some bad spots. They played great tonight, we just didn't hold up our end of the bargain."
Nova scrambled 14 yards for a touchdown and Kyle Federico added a 32-yard field goal for Rutgers (2-1, 0-1), whose conference debut brought a record 53,774 fans to High Point Solutions Stadium.
There was a buzz about Rutgers' first game in the Big Ten, with many wondering whether the Scarlet Knights would be able to compete in an elite league.
In this game, they did and they probably would have won not for the turnovers and the inability of its offense to do anything in the second half.
Rutgers was limited to three first downs and that was enough to allow Hackenberg (25 of 44 for 309 yards) to rally Penn State.
Hackenberg led scoring drives of 72 and 68 yards against a valiant Rutgers' defense that had allowed an average of 31.5 points in its first two games.
"He's light-years ahead of a true sophomore," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "To me, you grade quarterbacks on third down percentage, red zone and wins and losses and the wins and losses are the most important thing and come back fourth quarter drives and he's done those things, so I'm really, really proud of him."
The game-winning drive was ignited by a pass along the sideline in front of the Penn State bench. Rutgers defenders Gareef Glashen and Delon Stephenson allowed Lewis to catch a ball between them and he broke free for an extra 25 yards to the Rutgers 27.
Penn State appeared to take the lead on a third-down, 20-yard TD pass to tight end Jesse James with 2:05 left but the score was nullified by a holding penalty.
Hackenberg hit Lewis along the left sideline for 23 yards and a first down to the 6-yard line. Belton gained a yard on first down and scored on a draw on second.
"We had a lot of energy and we played hard," Rutgers linebacker Kevin Snyder said. "It's just tough when you need that one more play and you can't get it. It's hats off to them because they played hard. We played good defense in the first half but they stayed the course. They just made one more play than we did."
Rutgers has led the nation in blocking kicks since 2009 and it picked up two more against Penn State in the first half.
Nova started the ensuring 10-play, 80-yard drive with a 17-yard pass to Leonte Carroo and capped it with a 14-yard touchdown scramble up the middle after avoiding a blitz and getting a block from halfback Paul James.
Rutgers stretched the lead to 10-0 with a 14-play,78-yard drive that Nova kept alive with third-down passes of 19 yards to Carroo early and 21 to Janarion Grant. Federico converted from 32 yards with :12 left in the half.
The win capped a good week for Penn State. Its football program got out from under the most severe on-field sanctions imposed on it two years ago over the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal, learning the NCAA will allow it to compete in this year's postseason and that all scholarships will return in 2015.
All content copyright ©2014 Daily Journal, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.