Rutgers' senior day celebration foiled by No. 16 Penn State

Knights lose to Lions 20-7 in final home game of season

Even in 40-degree weather and remnants of snow in the corners of the field, the Rutgers football team played a game on Saturday. But it was not just any game as Saturday marked the team’s senior day — a sendoff for all of the seniors in what would be their final home game — and against cross-state rival Penn State. 

Fans piled in, the student section was packed but unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights (1-10, 0-8), they could not leave Stadium for one final time this season with a win, falling to the No. 16 Nittany Lions (8-3, 5-3), 20-7.

“Yeah it’s tough. Honestly, I don’t wanna take my jersey off,” said fifth-year senior quarterback Giovanni Rescigno, still in complete uniform. “A lot of good memories, a lot of hard work. Some ups and downs, but it is what it is. I’ve enjoyed my time here.”

But early on, the 44,840 that showed up did not have much to cheer for as offense was hard to come by for both teams. 

It was not until the second half, down a modest 13-0, that Rutgers and, fittingly, Rescigno started making some plays — most notably with their feet.

Rescigno finished the day 2-8 for 28 yards but had 35 yards on seven carries, igniting an offense that had been stagnating.

Although, the biggest thing people will remember from the game will almost undoubtedly be Rescigno’s drop in the end zone on 4th and goal on a wide-open pass from sophomore running back Trey Sneed on the “Philly Special.”

Mirrored after the Philadelphia Eagles’ famous Super Bowl touchdown last year against the New England Patriots, sophomore running back Raheem Blackshear took the snap, pitched it to Sneed who then threw it to an unmarked Rescigno who simply dropped the ball. 

“Well executed play on 4th down that we didn't finish,” said head coach Chris Ash. “You score there, who knows? It changes everything. I think the sideline in the stadium was ready to explode if we finished that. That was a tough one.”

The score would have been 13-7 with approximately 20 minutes left in the game and a Knights defense that was doing a great job of handling the dynamic Penn State offense to that point. 

Instead, in a heartbeat, Rutgers turned the ball over, came away with no points and the energy inside Stadium deflated as fans started trickling out, waving the white flag.

“At the end of the day, it’s a game. Life’s much bigger than football,” Rescigno said. “… I’m not gonna look back and say my career ended really bad because I dropped a pass in the end zone or we lost to Penn State or I didn’t play the whole season. That’s not how it’s gonna be.”

Prior to Rescigno’s entrance, true freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski was really struggling, going 3-7 for 18 yards with his final throw resulting in an interception, his second of the day and the 18th of the season.

Despite the offensive inefficiencies, the Knights were still in the game thanks to their defense. 

“Defensively we know we can play with the best of them,” said senior defensive back Isaiah Wharton.

Wharton was a big reason why the defense played so well, breaking up a plethora of passes and even corralling an interception.

His veteran leadership and consistency on the field has made him quite the player during his time on the Banks, which includes starting 47 straight games. If Wharton starts against Michigan State next week, he will have started every single game since he arrived at Rutgers.

“It was a blur, it came fast, but I’m blessed and fortunate to be in this position. The wins and loss column doesn’t look good, but at the end of the day after the game, the boys in that locker room, I love them. They’re getting better,” he said. 

The Knights’ lone touchdown of the day came on a 2-yard run by Blackshear. He finished the day as the leading rusher with 106 yards on 22 carries.

Overall, Rutgers had 234 total yards on the ground — the second consecutive game it surpassed 180 rushing yards — seemingly finding its identity that Ash was looking for earlier in the season.

“I do really like the improvements we've made in the run game. I really like our tailbacks, the way they run, the confidence that they run with. Just the whole team has a lot of confidence in those guys. We've got to continue to build on that,” Ash said.

Next week, the Knights will play their final game of the season as they travel to East Lansing, Mich. to take on the Spartans looking to end the season on a high note.

“Doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we feel like we can beat them,” Wharton said. “… This team is definitely going in the right direction and the younger guys in the locker room, they understand that we’re setting the culture the right way that it needs to be done.”

It still remains to be seen who will be the starting quarterback, but perhaps Rescigno, the Michigan native, did enough to earn himself one final start.

Regardless of what happens, he is proud of his career and will remember it for the rest of his life.

“It was a dream of mine since I was a little kid. Maybe not necessarily where I expected to end up, but it happened to be somewhere that I fell in love with and it means a whole lot to me,” he said.

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