By GREG PICKEL
John Curley Center
DUBLIN – Sam Ficken kicked a 36-yard field goal as time expired and Christian Hackenberg set a program passing record as Penn State rallied to beat Central Florida 26-24 in the Croke Park Classic on Saturday, giving James Franklin a victory in his debut as the Nittany Lions’ head coach.
Penn State (1-0) trailed 24-23 with just 1:08 to play after UCF quarterback Justin Holman scampered for a 6-yard score. But Hackenberg, who threw for 454 yards to eclipse former Lion Zack Mills’ mark of 399 yards set in 2002, marched the Lions 55 yards in eight plays to set up Ficken’s boot.
“I don’t know what the flight regulations are, but we’re going to be partying all the way back to the United States,” Franklin said in a television interview on the field.
The game in Dublin’s historic Croke Park stadium was set up while Bill O’Brien was still the head coach, and pitched as one coach with an Irish heritage opposite another in UCF coach George O’Leary. But O’Brien left for a job with the Houston Texans in January, and Franklin was hired weeks later.
Holman replaced the ineffective Pete DiNovo and gave Central Florida (0-1) a huge lift in the second half, throwing for 204 yards and a touchdown.
It was the first international game for both teams.
Penn State was presented with the Dan Rooney Trophy following the game. The former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland was one of an announced 53,304 in attendance.
Greg Pickel is a student in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State.