Yorkers, Penn Staters turn out for Rose Bowl

Jason Addy

Though No. 5 Penn State missed out on a spot in the college football playoff, fans didn't see a trip to the Rose Bowl as a consolation prize for the revived program.

If you listen to Penn State York adjunct faculty member Judy Higgins, the Rose Bowl is actually bigger than the playoffs.

“I know the title would be really nice, but if we can beat USC, that’s going to be a huge prize. This is the granddaddy of the bowl games,” Higgins said.

Higgins was one of more than 100 Penn State fans watching the game at Primanti Bros. on South Queen Street in York Township, with the noise in the restaurant at times resembling the storied Beaver Stadium atmosphere.

Eric Kensinger, secretary of the Penn State Alumni Association’s York County chapter, said there were at least 50 York-area alumni at Primanti Bros. Monday night, while about 20 alumni from the area made the 2,600-mile trip to the famed Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, California.

Penn State fan Margaret Gwiazdowski, of East York, celebrates during a watch party hosted by Penn State Alumni Association York County Chapter at Primanti Bros. in York, Monday, Jan. 2, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The York County alumni chapter has watched every game this season at Primanti Bros., Kensinger said. The idea to watch all of Penn State’s games together came when the group took a bus to watch the Nittany Lions play the University of Pittsburgh early in the season, Kensinger said.

After suffering a lopsided loss at the hands of Michigan, Penn State turned a 2-2 start to the season into an 11-2 record entering the Rose Bowl, including a come-from-behind victory over Wisconsin to win the Big Ten Championship.

Comeback victories became almost routine for Penn State as it strung together nine straight victories to reach the game known as “The Granddaddy of Them All."

But Monday night, USC came back against Penn State, winning the Rose Bowl 52-49 after the Nittany Lions went into the fourth quarter with a 49-35 lead.

Though the team isn’t always easy to watch, many Penn State fans are accustomed to adversity, having spent much of the last five years supporting a team whose main goal was to stay relevant in the college football conversation.

In 2011, Penn State faced a number of NCAA sanctions against its football program after former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was charged with numerous counts of child sexual abuse.

Despite years of frustration, as well as the Nittany Lions’ underwhelming start to the season, fans at the restaurant Monday night were not ready to give up hope, celebrating first downs as if Penn State had won the national championship.

“I never gave up on ‘em. I never gave up,” Higgins said. “This (team) is a very class act. I always believed in the program.”

From left, Penn State fans Scott Schaefer, of Hellam Township, Don McConnell, of Timonium, MD., Trichia Boyd, of Washington D.C., Jessica Easton, of Windsor Township, Kevin Higgins, of Lower Windsor Township and Arlene Schmitt, of York Township, celebrate a touchdown during a watch party hosted by Penn State Alumni Association York County Chapter at Primanti Bros. in York Township, Monday, Jan. 2, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The university “got shortchanged” when former head coach Bill O’Brien left the program after two years in charge, Higgins said, but now she is ready to throw all of her support behind head coach James Franklin.

Higgins said she will try to get to Penn State’s next bowl game because she is sure the university’s football program will continue to grow to become a serious contender for the national championship.

“We’ve got a lot of young talent,” Higgins said. “We’ve proven that we can overcome adversity. We’ve proven that it’s still a high-caliber school.”

Even with a Penn State loss in the Rose Bowl, Kensinger said the game is important to show that the program is back where it used to be.

And “it’s only going to get better,” Kensinger said.