Nov. 20 – PISCATAWAY, NJ – Rutgers celebrated Seniors Day Saturday at SHI Stadium, but Penn State’s Ji’Ayir Brown had more fun celebrating his homecoming.
Brown, a senior safety from Trenton, NJ, picked up a fumble and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown as the 11th-ranked Nittany Lions beat the Scarlet Knights 55-10.
Penn State (6-2 Big Ten, 9-2) scored two more touchdowns on special teams and defense, a 100-yard kickoff return by former Governor Mifflin star Nick Singleton and a scoop and a 14-yard score by linebacker Kobe King.
Brown’s touchdown gave the Lions a 35-10 start in the third quarter and came in front of more than 50 family and friends who made the 45-minute trip from home.
“Indescribable,” Brown said when asked what that meant to him. “They came out for me. They came out to see me put on a show and I did it for them.
“It’s a great feeling to have them come back with this memory of me from my last away game at Penn State. It’s going to stay with people for life.”
Rutgers (1-7 Big Ten, 4-7) took its first lead over Penn State in three years on Jude McAtammey’s 42-yard field goal in the first quarter. Singleton lined up the ensuing kick-off on the goal line, sprinted through a crease in midfield and ran untouched to the end zone.
“I have to admit it was a beautiful thing,” Lions coach James Franklin said. “We invested so much in special teams, so I was really happy for Stacy (special teams coordinator Stacy Collins) and our players.
“We hadn’t had much success, so it was important for us.”
Later in the first quarter, cornerback Marquis Wilson stripped the football of tight end Johnny Langan after a catch. King quickly picked it up and scored to put Penn State ahead for good, 14-10, and start a late-game 48-0 run.
King said it was his first touchdown since his senior year at Cass Tech in Michigan and his first score on defense since having a pick six in midget football.
“It was wrong for me,” King said. “I’m not going to lie. I was just focused on receiving the ball and not kicking it out of bounds. I had to slow down and pick up the ball and score.”
Penn State remained in contention for a spot in the New Year’s Six Bowl with its third straight victory and handed head coach James Franklin the 100th victory of his coaching career. He is 100-51 in 12 seasons, including three at Vanderbilt.
The Lions held Rutgers to 167 total yards, the third straight opponent they’ve held to less than 200 yards. They recorded 15 tackles for loss and four sacks and forced three turnovers, including an interception by Johnny Dixon that set up a touchdown.
“This team is getting better every week,” Brown said. “I think it’s because we know who we are. We’re one of the greatest teams in this country. We’re finally starting to put the pieces of the puzzle together.”
Linebacker Curtis Jacobs returned to action after leaving the win over Indiana two weeks ago with an undisclosed injury. He fired quarterback Gavin Wimsatt and forced the fumble which Brown returned for the touchdown.
“He’s an experienced linebacker who’s played a ton of football for us,” Franklin said of Jacobs. “He’s athletic. He’s a playmaker for us and he’s playing with more and more confidence. To have a veteran like that is really good.”
On offense, quarterback Sean Clifford completed 17 of 26 passes for 176 yards and a 10-yard touchdown to Tyler Warren and rushed 14 yards for another score.
Kaytron Allen carried 11 times for 117 yards and a touchdown, and his classmate Singleton rushed nine times for 62 yards. They became the first freshman duo in Big Ten history to reach 700 rushing yards in the same season.
“The cap is unlimited for these guys,” Clifford said. “They both have exceptional talent. They are both improving.”
Penn State ends the regular season next Saturday against Michigan State at Beaver Stadium. This will be the last home game for Brown, who enjoyed the trip back to his home country as much as anyone.
“When I saw nobody chasing me, it was like ‘Wow,'” he said of his touchdown. “God has blessed me so much this year and throughout my life to be on this stage, to be able to do parts like this throughout the season. It was awesome to put on a show.”