With our daughter now having graduated from Penn State, a major reason to visit Happy Valley to see the Lions at home has now passed. Add that to the fact that getting into State College and staying there for a football weekend is neither cheap nor easy, and it was time to say goodbye to Happy Valley for the near future.
Our plan now was to see the Lions on the road and visit every B1G stadium. We got a taste of that last year when we made the trip to Indiana and the year before when we visited Ohio State. Seeing Penn State on the road allows you to experience other towns and campuses while taking in the traditions and getting a taste of their town by visiting their iconic restaurants and bars. It doesn’t hurt that most times, travel and ticket prices will be much lower as well.
Even so, over the years, we have yet to find anything that rivals gameday in Happy Valley. A couple have come close, like Alabama in 2010 and Iowa City in 2008, but saying goodbye to football Saturdays in Central Pennsylvania was harder than we thought.
With Pitt visiting Penn State in what will be the 100th clash between these two in-state “rivals”, I got the urge to make a last minute trip to see the final game scheduled in this series. On Thursday morning, two days prior to kickoff, I searched for airfare and hotels that would be reasonable. Flying out and back was surprisingly doable, but when I passed it by the boss, she thought I had finally lost it. She wasn’t too excited to fly into Pittsburgh, landing late on Friday, then drive to State College early in the morning for a noon kickoff. After the game, it would require us to head back to Pittsburgh Saturday night before a short night of sleep and 7:00am Sunday flight home. Doable, yes, but not very fun. So I went back to the drawing board.
Using my handy-dandy Interactive Maps (featured on my homepage), I quickly realized that we had some options to make the long flight worthwhile. On Sunday, the Cardinals were playing the Ravens down in Baltimore and my beloved Bills were playing Saquon and the Giants over in the Meadowlands. All of a sudden, the trip started to make more sense and we had some options.
While either game would have been worth it, the best options for travel had us taking in the Bills game! Flights, hotels and rental car booked and by 12pm on Thursday, we were committed for a weekend of football back east!
We opted to fly into Philadelphia and stay in Harrisburg on Friday night. Ninety minutes outside of State College and we were able to book a Hampton that was pocket-change compared to what you’d pay in town. An early morning wake-up call had us on the road by 6;15am and into State College by 8:00am. The early departure also saved us substantial time as the route gets jammed with traffic as you get closer to kickoff. Coming into town, the clouds were low, but were expected to clear (mostly) by kickoff.
Another bonus was we went straight to campus and parked in one of the parking decks as opposed to fighting the stadium lots before and after the game. In a small-world story, as we parked the car, a guy parked next to us and we started to chat. He was with Penn State Berks and was there working security for the game. Turns out, he got his start at Penn State Scranton and knows my mother-in-law. Crazy.
Campus this morning was eerily quiet. With no traffic and no one on campus, you’d never know that in less than four hours, Beaver Stadium would become the fourth largest city in the State.
We just missed Bus Arrival, a tradition where the blue buses drop the players and coaches off in front of the stadium. The parade route is lined with all types of fans – young and old. Coach Franklin has made it a tradition for some of the captains to hand out autographed footballs to some of the younger ones. Here are the buses leaving the area.
We planned to meet up with a couple of tailgates but were only able to connect with our friends from Scranton. Yet again, strange circumstances brought us together. They’ve gone to a total of three Penn State games over the years – all within the last two or three years. What’s odd is that we were also at those three by total chance without any planning and were able to hang out with them. Gotta love it when things come together.
The invitation to join a tailgate when flying in for games highly coveted and severely underrated. We’ve done the hoagies, bag of chips and six-packs before, but it’s just not the same. So thanks to all who invite us to join them. There’s nothing like a Yuengling, Maroni’s pizza and Middlewarth BBQ chips for breakfast!
I’ve never been part of a surprise proposal, but today changed that. These two lovebird have been coming to games for years and he decided to pop the question in front of family and friends (and some strangers like us).
The weather for pregame was dicey. At one point a couple of officers walked by our pop-ups and suggested we “batten down the hatches” as a nasty storm was 30-minutes out. They nailed it. Not only was it pretty windy, but lightning nearby postponed the start of the game.
The 12:00pm kickoff was pushed to 12:40 and before long, we were in our seats. We missed the opening drive thanks to the throngs of people all scrambling to reenter the stadium at the same time, but overall not too bad.
As if Beaver Stadium needs anything more to add to the atmosphere, today’s game was deemed a Stripeout. It really creates a cool visual inside the stadium, although we both commented afterwards that nothing compares to a Whiteout in terms of visual and audio. This crowd was groggy from their early morning wake-up calls.
The game was a bit of a mess as well with neither team stepping up to take control. Penn State opened the scoring on their second drive thanks to an 85-yard run by Journey Brown that set up the Lions on the Pitt 12. Pitt responded later with back-to-back scoring drives to take the lead with about 2 minutes to go in the half.
The highlight of the game came after Pitt’s second score. As time was winding down at the end of the half with Penn State trailing 10-7, VaTech transfer Jordan Stout pounded a 58-yard FG to tie it at 10 at the half.
A head-scratching moment came later in the game with Pitt now trailing 17-10. With under 6 minutes to go in the game, down 7, Pitt had a 1st and goal at the 1. The Lions D stood up to the challenge and forced a 4th and goal from the 1. That’s when Pitt opted for 3 – and it clanked off the left upright.
Penn State couldn’t eat the clock and gave it back to the Panthers with under 2 minutes to play. The visitors moved the ball from their own 16 to the Penn State 26 before they ran out of time.
Leaving the stadium, we were thrilled to capture the W and witness what may be the last game between these two for quite some time. As we walked through the lots, we were reminded why we love this place so much. So much passion and enthusiasm for the team, school and tailgating.
Our parking spot on campus paid huge dividends after the game as we made a quick exit. Before long we were on the highway headed to Scranton for our next stop and to visit more family – oh, and more Pizza.
Oh, and if you’re curious, Penn State holds the series edge, now 53-43-4.
To be continued…
Stop wondering. Start wandering!