October 6, 2012 at 6:31 PM
Alex Butterworth and Jesse Della Valle had their high points and their low points Saturday in Penn State’s 39-28 victory over Northwestern.
But their best moment of the game was a combined effort. After Penn State’s first drive of the game stalled on a 4th-and-long outside Sam Ficken’s field goal range, coach Bill O’Brien called upon Butterworth to punt on a short field. A touchback would net only 14 yards, so Butterworth tried to pin the Wildcats with their backs against their own endzone.
After a couple of bounces, Della Valle came flying in at the plane to stop the ball from bouncing in. Penn State downed the kick at Northwestern’s 1-yard line.
“It feels great because all the special teams, it’s more of a unit type thing,” Butterworth said. “It’s not just like you’re back there alone. Yeah, I punted it and I landed it on the five, but my guys had to do some crazy stuff to keep that from going in the endzone. Really, you just come out of that happy with what your guys did down there.”
A muffed punt by Della Valle in the second quarter undermined the returner's coverage play. The fumble shifted momentum heavily in the Wildcats’ favor after they turned it into a touchdown.
“Special teams can change a game, absolutely,” Della Valle said. “That’s just something we’re trying each and every week to focus on, coming up big on special teams.
“I knew my teammates would have my back, try to keep my head up as best they can. They were saying, ‘Don’t worry about it. We’ll pick it up. We’ll pick it up.’”
In the third quarter, Butterworth said he outkicked the coverage on his 54-yard punt — his longest of the day. Northwestern returner Venric Mark was able to weave through Penn State’s players for a 75-yard touchdown run back.
“We had an unbelievable punt, probably his best punt of the year,” said secondary coach John Butler, who also oversees the special teams. “They did a great job. He’s a great returner. We knew something like that was coming.”