Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Backlash over Ficken's misses spills onto Penn State's campus

After Penn State lost to Virginia 17-16, fans back in State College zeroed in on Ficken, a 19-year-old sophomore from Indiana, as the scapegoat. Ficken finished the day 1-for-5 on field goal attempts -- including a miss from 20 yards -- as well as a missed extra point.

Backlash over Ficken's misses spills onto Penn State's campus

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When Sam Ficken lined up to attempt an extra point after a Penn State touchdown in the fourth quarter, Virginia fans standing on the grassy hill behind the end zone began to taunt the Nittany Lions' kicker.

"Nine-ty-Sev-en!" they chanted, referring to Ficken's jersey number. "Nine-ty-Sev-en!"

Such taunts are expected from the opposing team. It's not expected from your peers.

But after Penn State lost to Virginia 17-16, fans back in State College zeroed in on Ficken, a 19-year-old sophomore from Indiana, as the scapegoat. Ficken finished the day 1-for-5 on field goal attempts -- including a miss from 20 yards -- as well as a missed extra point.

"As soon as it happened, my Facebook page was filled with statuses about how Penn State football was a joke," said senior Jill Heron. "Most of the statuses were from students saying that making a field goal couldn't be that hard. They basically put all the blame on the loss on Ficken."

That raw emotion spilled onto the streets of State College on Saturday night. Senior Marco Ranzi said plenty of students were talking about Ficken as they went out to bars and parties after the game.

"It was just jibber jabber," Ranzi said. "Just aggravated Nittany Lion fans."

Ranzi said he heard students yell out several things including, "You're a kicker, you only have one job to do!"and "If I was Ficken I wouldn't show my face in State College for a couple days!"

"And then lots of angry Ficken puns," Ranzi said, adding that most students claimed they could make those kicks.

A Twitter account called @SamFickensFoot was created shortly after the game. The bio on the account reads, "Just a misguided foot on a full ride."

The account is clearly a parody, and includes several tweets about how kickers performed in the NFL yesterday, mainly former Eagles kicker David Akers, who hit a 63-yard-field goal.

"Akers hits from 63 yards. I'm going to go cry now. J/k j/k I'll get there one day :)," the account tweeted on Sunday afternoon.

Ficken was not made available for comment after the game, but posted a message on his personal Twitter account (@Sficken1) at about 5 p.m. on Saturday.

"Appreciate all the support from teammates, friends, family, and nittany nation," he wrote. It was retweeted over 200 times.

After the game, Penn State players offered unrequited support for Ficken, who, in truth, was never supposed to be Penn State's starting kicker. Anthony Fera, an All-Big Ten selection last season, was supposed to handle those duties. However in wake of the NCAA sanctions, Fera transferred to Texas.

Fera made 14 of 17 field goal attempts last season.

But now, it's Ficken's job. Last year, he was just another member of the football team. When Penn State faces Navy on Saturday at Beaver Stadium, he will be the fans most visible target.

The Virginia game was just the second of Penn State's season -- a season where the Nittany Lions are not eligible to even play in a bowl game. It's not the BCS Championship game, or even the fourth or fifth game of the Big Ten schedule.

Even still, fans are looking for somewhere to place blame. Right now, Ficken is the most obvious single target.

"It happens," quarterback Matt McGloin said on Saturday. "It’s not what won or lost us the game. A couple plays here and there lost it, Sam did not lose us the game whatsoever.”

Might be true, but McGloin will have to do a lot of convincing to Nittany Nation so they believe it as well.

-Emily Kaplan

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About this blog
Joe Juliano has been a staff writer for The Inquirer for 30 years, covering covering Penn State football, Villanova basketball and other college sports, along with golf and the Penn Relays. This is his seventh season on The Inquirer’s Penn State beat. He previously covered the Nittany Lions for United Press International from 1976-84.

Joining Joe this season is Erin McCarthy, an intern for The Inquirer and a junior at Penn State majoring in print and digital journalism. This is Erin's first season on the Penn State football beat. She previously spent two summers as an Inquirer summer intern on the Pennsylvania and South Jersey desks. She is also an editor for the Daily Collegian, the university's student newspaper. A Delaware County native, Erin graduated from Episcopal Academy.

Reach Joe at jjuliano@phillynews.com.

Joe Juliano Inquirer Staff Writer
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