Sports

Kicker Sam Ficken survives fickle fans to become hero for Penn State

Penn State's Sam Ficken, scorned after a bad game in 2012, beats Central Florida with last-second field goal
Sam Ficken kicks four field goals, including 36-yard game-winner, in Penn State's 26-24 win in Dublin, Ireland

Sam Ficken was a hero Saturday, which was especially sweet because he knows what it's like to be a goat.

Ficken kicked four field goals for Penn State, the last from 36 yards as time expired, to push the Nittany Lions to a 26-24 win over Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland.

A Penn State victory seemed unlikely when Central Florida scored on a six-yard run to go up, 24-23, with 1 minute 13 seconds left in regulation.

James Franklin, who won in his debut as Penn State's coach, kept the faith. "Everybody believed. They believed in Hack. They believed in Ficken," he said.

"Hack" is quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who calmly directed the six plays that moved Ficken into range. And Ficken responded, just as he has since the worst day of his athletic career.

Two years ago, Ficken missed four field goals and a point-after try as Penn State lost to Virginia by a point. A hailstorm of hate mail over social media ensued, and Ficken didn't come out of his apartment until he absolutely had to.

But he finished the 2012 season by making his last 10 field-goal attempts, and opened last season by making his first five, giving him a school-record 15 in a row. When he finally missed, it was close — and from 57 yards.

Ficken finished last season with the longest field goal by a Big Ten Conference kicker, 54 yards.

He also has a good sense of humor. Recalling during an interview with ESPN the criticism he withstood after that Virginia game, he laughed off one particularly pointed comment:

"There was one joke," Ficken remembered, "like, 'Hey, we don't need to worry about Ficken hanging himself. He can't kick the chair out from under himself.' That one's actually kind of funny."

Well, maybe now.

About that 'Hack'

Hackenberg became the first Penn State quarterback to pass for 400 yards in a game. He completed 32 of 47 passes for 454 yards.

"He's what a college quarterback should look like," Central Florida Coach George O'Leary said of the 6-foot-4, 234-pound sophomore.

Zack Mills held the Penn State record for yards passing in a game with 399 against Iowa in 2002.

It'll have to do

It surely doesn't qualify as revenge for frustrated Florida fans, but at least it's something: A former Gator delivered a win over Georgia Southern.

Jacoby Brissett passed for 291 yards and three second-half touchdowns as North Carolina State rallied from a two-touchdown deficit to down Georgia Southern, 24-23.

Brissett is a redshirt junior but he was playing his first game for the Wolfpack after sitting out last season in the wake of his transfer from Florida.

Georgia Southern was playing its first game as a Football Bowl Subdivision team after years of being a lower-division power. The Eagles defeated Florida last year.

Brissett's 35-yard scoring pass to Matt Dayes with 1:37 left in regulation set up the game-winning point-after.

Eye on the Buckeyes

Ohio State didn't look like a top-five team against Navy, and it had little to do with the Buckeyes' missing injured quarterback Braxton Miller.

Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett is no Miller, but he completed 12 of 15 passes for 226 yards. His 80-yard connection with Devin Smith was the longest scoring pass Navy had given up since 2004.

The concern for Coach Urban Meyer should be an Ohio State defense that gave up 370 yards rushing to Navy's triple-option attack.

No repeat

Appalachian State couldn't do it again. Not even close.

In 2007, the Mountaineers became the first lower-level program to beat a top-25 team when they blocked a field-goal try as time expired to secure a victory over Michigan, perhaps the biggest upset in college football history.

Seven years later, the Wolverines won in a rout, 52-14, and Appalachian State Coach Scott Satterfield didn't feign surprise. "You know they've been hearing about it all summer long," he said of the rematch.

Derrick Green ran for 170 yards and DeVeon Smith ran for 115 to become the first Michigan tandem to rush for more than 100 yards in the same game since 2007.

Who'd have guessed?

Alabama's first play from scrimmage with new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin?

A bubble screen.

mike.hiserman@latimes.com

Twitter: @MikeHiserman

Los Angeles Times wire services contributed to this report.

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