Nov. 27—STATE COLLEGE — He wanted to take in every moment. Not just the tackles and the passes batted to the ground. But every movement he made at Beaver Stadium. Every individual cheer he could hear from fans in the stands. The sensation of the grass on his fingertips as he pulled himself off the turf for the final times.
Ji'Ayir Brown wanted to slow down time the last few weeks, but it caught up to him Saturday. His long journey from a relative unknown high school player in Trenton, N.J., to the last player on the Lackawanna College roster in 2018 to one of the most impactful defensive back at Penn State in the last decade, came to an end Saturday in No. 11 Penn State's 35-16 win over Michigan State, Brown's last game at Beaver Stadium.
And it ended in a fitting manor.
He finished the game with seven tackles, and he forced a fumble by Michigan State return man Jaylen Reed that led to tight end Tyler Warren's 14-yard touchdown reception and a 21-3 lead in the third quarter.
Brown has forced 15 turnovers in his three seasons with the Nittany Lions. The last Nittany Lions defensive back to force as many was Alan Zemaitis, from 2003-05.
"It's crazy, though, because I didn't imagine it happening that way, off a punt," Brown smiled. "You never know how they're going to come. But they came. Those moments, you try to embrace them right in the moment. To do that, in front of the fans one more last time, it was really special."
A player likely to be selected in next April's NFL Draft, Brown was asked if he had given any thought to sitting out the bowl game. However, he said he had not looked that far ahead.
Cornerback Joey Porter Jr. played for the first time since battling appendicitis three weeks ago, but it was still his sophomore counterpart on the opposite corner that stole the show.
Knowing Porter's return meant more opportunities for him, Kalen King set a career high with five pass breakups, and his fourth quarter interception of Michgian State quarterback Payton Thorne all but clinched the win for the Nittany Lions.
Not a bad day's worth of work for King against his hometown team, and the timing of the interception stood out as special. He finished the regular season with 17 pass breakups.
"Everything I'm doing right now, I feel like I deserve it," King said. "I know the work I put in all season and all my life. I've been really working hard. Now that I'm seeing it pay off, I expect it."
Three of Penn State's five touchdown passes Saturday went to tight ends, continuing a string of success that has made the Nittany Lions' group one of the most productive in the nation.
Theo Johnson caught two touchdowns, and Warren added the other, giving Penn State tight ends 13 touchdowns this season.
That leads the Big Ten and is second among Power Five teams, and Johnson credited second-year position coach Ty Howle for taking the group to another level as complete tight ends.
"He brought a different kind of blocking for us," Johnson said. "That's something he hones in on us. He's pretty confident in our abilities in the pass game. A lot of our focus is tailored toward the run game and making sure that we're good there, just because of how big our role is in the run game. We've taken some really big strides. We've done a really good job of taking a step forward this year."
Wyoming Area grad Dominic DeLuca had a tackle on the opening kickoff and a pass breakup on Michigan State's failed fourth-down conversion attempt in the second quarter. ... Penn State won its seventh Big Ten game, the seventh time in program history it reached that mark. ... Penn State averaged 107,379 fans in seven games at Beaver Stadium this season, it's highest average attendance since 2008. ... WR Mitchell Tinsley caught a pass for the 38th consecutive game in his college career. ... Penn State finished the regular season with 82 pass breakups, its most since 1996.
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