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Brian Barry reviews the aptly named Croke Park Classic between Penn State and UCF, which saw the Pennsylvania side come out on top.

Penn State committed a robbery on UCF to claim the honours in what can only be described as an epic in Croke Park.

PSU won the toss, and that wasn’t the only aspect the Nittany Lions were in the ascendancy early on. Right from the off, the class of quarter-back Christian Hackenburg was clear, as he terrorised the much fancied UCF defence.

After five minutes, the sophomore nailed a38 yard pass, to bring the Nittany Lions to 2 yards. Zach Zwinak plunged over on 3rd and goal to give PSU a deserved lead. However, UCF did not travel all this way to simply make up the numbers, and Jordan Akins signalled their intent with a 68 yard run to return the ensuing kick-off.

However, the Florida outfit failed to capitalise, spurning a scoring opportunity off fourth down by electing to go for the touchdown.

The Knights offence looked flat during the second quarter, but pulled back a field goal in the opening three minutes to make it 7-3. It was then when Hackenburg really stepped up and showed why he is being touted as a potential future no. 1 overall draft pick. Not only did the 19 year-old nail his passes, but also found space to gain a first down through his running game.

Despite strolling up the field, Penn State simply could not get over the final two yards, and had to settle for a field goal. It continued the same way for the remainder of second quarter, with UCF distinctly lacking any threat, and Hackenburg picking passes for fun. The half-time score read 10-3 to PSU.

The Knights attack was not operating, and it caused a game-changing substitution. Quarter-back Pete DiNovo was replaced by Justin Holman, and the game sprung to life. The Knights looked a more dangerous prospect in the second half with their new quarter-back, but it was PSU to strike first blood, with a 33 yard field goal to stretch the gap to 10.

Cue the Holman show.

A 50 yard pass to Breshad Perriman brought the crowd to its feet, and UCF got their touchdown on the subsequent drive. 13-10, and the Nittany Lions had a game on their hands. Hackenburg was sacked, which only added fuel to the Knights’ flame. But largely against the run of play, PSU found their touchdown, with the sophomore quarter-back finding Geno Lewis behind the defence with a huge 38 yard pass. 20-10 and it looked like the game might just be beyond UCF.

But the 53,304 in attendance were not to be deprived of a grandstand finish. The final quarter was truly a tale of two quarter-backs, with both Holman and Hackenburg hitting hard. UCF pressure told, and Holman found Josh Reese in the end zone to bring the gap to just three. What ensued was a scrap.

Neither team could hold onto possession, with more turnovers than first downs over a five minute spell. But cometh the hour, cometh the man; Hackenburg found Lewis wide on the right to bring Penn State up to within 15 yards. But that was all they could manage, as a field goal opened the gap to six with just three and a half minutes remaining.

However, there was another twist in the tale, as Holman ran from 6 yards at 1st and goal. With 1:13 left on the clock, there were worries that the touchdown may have come too early for the Knights. There were few nails left to be bitten in Croker, as Penn State launched their assault, armed with three timeouts. Hackenburg and co. worked their way up again, and suddenly with three seconds left on the clock, they found themselves within field goal range. Sam Ficken was the hero. Fulltime score 26-24. American Football will be back in Dublin, and we can’t wait.

Brian Barry @ Croke Park, Pundit Arena.

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