Bill Belton will be remembered for the game-winning touchdown in the fourth overtime as Penn State upset No. 18 Michigan, 43-40, but the performance of quarterback Christian Hackenberg should be what everyone remembers for years to come.
That's because, without Hackenberg's heroics late in the fourth quarter, Belton never gets the chance to win the football game.
Throughout the first five games of Hackenberg's freshman campaign we've all seen glimpses of greatness, but on Saturday night in Beaver Stadium, greatness was cemented in a span of 23 seconds.
With just 50 seconds left on the game clock and no timeouts, Hackenberg and the Nittany Lions were faced with the prospect of having to go 80 yards for a touchdown, and a touchdown only, to tie the game.
On 1st-and-10, Hackenberg hit star-reciever Allen Robinson for a 14 yard completion—one that was barely inbounds and a perfect combination of great placement of the throw and excellent concentration by the receiver.
Then, on the next 1st-and-10, the freshman quarterback hit Brandon Felder for a 29-yard gain. It would be Penn State ball at the Michigan 37-yard line.
After spiking the ball on the next play, Hackenberg decided against playing it safe and threw it up to Robinson in coverage, but threw it to where only Robinson could reach it. That's exactly what the star did, hitting down at the 1-yard line.
Of course, nothing would cap off the drive like a Hackenberg scramble for the game-tying touchdown, right?
With that singular drive, Hackenberg went from promising freshman to a star quarterback.
It wasn't just that drive that did it either, as he rose to the challenge nearly every time he was presented with one.
Hackenberg finished the game 23-of-44 for 304 yards and had three touchdowns passing (and the game-tying rushing TD) as well as two interceptions in the game.
Some may call it a "coming-of-age" moment for Hackenberg, but that assumes he wasn't already a competent quarterback.
Instead, this game (for me at least), showed that Hackenberg had that something extra that star quarterbacks need.
How many quarterbacks would've had the guts to make the three ridiculous throws he did in the final minute of action?
Further more, how many of them actually would get all three of them complete in less than 23 seconds for the tie?
It wasn't all Hackenberg on the night though, as credit also needs to go to a rushing defense that held Michigan to just 149 yards on 54 carries (a 2.8 yards per carry average) and a special teams unit that blocked a field goal in overtime to let this team live to see another set of downs.
However, when people look back on this game in the years to come, they aren't going to remember all the defensive stops or missed field goals—what people will remember is Christian Hackenberg and his game-tying heroics in the fourth quarter.
On Saturday night in Happy Valley, Christian Hackenberg went from hyped recruit to—legen....wait for it....dary.
*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.
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