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A Final Drive to Remember

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As the team plane touched down in Happy Valley in the early morning hours following a gripping beginning to a 2017 Big Ten schedule, an air of excitement and energy was still swirling.

Just hours prior, the Nittany Lions silenced a fervent crowd of nearly 70,000 inside Kinnick Stadium as the final seconds of the game clock ticked toward zero.

With the outcome of the game hinging on one final play, Penn State head coach James Franklin called a timeout on fourth-and-goal to give the staff time to settle on just the right option. 

Juwan Johnson.

"We felt like with Juwan, we had a height advantage," Franklin said. "We could kind of slip him through the middle of the field. Trace hung in there and Will Fries and our offensive line battled to give us just enough time to get him through there."

With a margin of error reflected in mere inches, Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley found Johnson in exactly the right location for a 7-yard touchdown grab to lock up a 21-19 win.

Making the most of his first career touchdown catch, Johnson moved to the edge of the end zone and paused, or blacked out as he said. 

"I kind of dreamt about this," Johnson said. "This is the stuff that you dream about when you're so little and just for it to happen, it's just crazy to dream about and then it's crazy for it to happen in real life. When I caught it, it was just like a dream, I just dozed off, I just blacked out." 

Like Johnson also added though, when he came back from his delirious state, what's also crazy to him, is the way in which things line up, or how it just so happened that McSorley found him for the final play.

Johnson's heroics of course wouldn't be possible without McSorley, who embodied every sense of what Franklin calls the gut-it-win against the Hawkeyes.

"I told the guys in the locker room, 'if you look at any really good season, there's always one game where the team has to gut it out and find a way to win, and we were able to do that tonight,'" Franklin said.

While McSorley's 7-yard touchdown pass to Johnson will certainly loop on repeat for the most passionate of Nittany Lion fans, it wasn't the only heart-stopping situation where McSorley's performed. Sure, we saw it last year, even a bit earlier this year, but an even closer look is only few snaps prior to the end of Penn State's game-winning 12 play, 80-yard scoring drive in the final 1:42.

"He's amazing," Johnson said postgame about the certain special something that McSorley had. "He's literally magic. I don't know how he does it and I don't know how even Saquon [Barkley] does it but they make it happen and I'm just glad they're on our team."

McSorley found Johnson two times before the game-winner for catches of at least 12 yards, including an 18-yard grab to bring the Nittany Lions to the Iowa 24-yard line.

Helped out by an 8-yard run from running back Saquon Barkley, on third-and-10, Penn State called its first timeout of the drive with :58 on the clock staring down a fourth-and-2 situation.

"Two minutes, two timeouts, let's get it in the end zone," Barkley said, recounting what was streaming through his mind headed into the final drive.

Barkley later followed Johnson's 18-yard catch with a 14-yard grab and go from McSorley to set up first-and-goal at the Iowa 10-yard line.

Barkley of course, had been on all night, hurdling his way to a school-record 385 all-purpose yards, including his third career 200-yard rushing performance, that also saw him reach the 3,000 career rushing yards plateau as the seventh Nittany Lion in program history to achieve the milestone.

"The dude never ceases to surprise you with what he can do," McSorley said looking back on what he saw from Barkley in the win.

To circle back to Johnson though, perhaps things might not have lined up just as they did, if McSorley didn't come out of the break to find wide receiver Saeed Blacknall for a 6-yard catch, his only reception of the day and the one that gave the Nittany Lions a fresh set of downs to bring it home. 

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