PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) 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 over Rutgers on Saturday night, spoiling the Scarlet Knights’ Big Ten Conference debut.
Christian Hackenberg orchestrated the game-winning, six-play, 80-yard, drive with passes of 53 and 23 yards to Geno Lewis after the Nittany Lions (3-0, 1-0) took over with 3:02 to play.
Sam Ficken had kicked field goals of 32 and 25 yards earlier in the half.
The Nittany Lions defense intercepted Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova five times.
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 against Penn State 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 in the game between Pennsylvania and New Jersey neighbors.
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.
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.
With Penn State lined up to punt from the Rutgers 30, the Scarlet Knights called time out. Nittany Lions coach James Franklin sent his offense back out on fourth down and 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.
Rutgers has led the nation in blocking kicks since 2009 and it picked up two more against Penn State in the first half.
Kemoko Turay had the big block, leaping high to deflect Ficken’s 34-yard attempt that was set up by an Adrian Amos interception at the Scarlet Knights 29.
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.
The university still must pay a $60 million fine, vacate 111 wins that came under Joe Paterno, plus another under interim coach Tom Bradley, and the school will remain under monitoring.