Penn State football vs. Ball State, student section

Students in Penn State’s student section hold up banners during Penn State football’s first home game of the season against Ball State at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pa., Saturday, Sep. 11, 2021. The Nittany Lions beat Ball State 44-13.

Penn State’s 2021 home opener Saturday against Ball State was over a year in the making.

James Franklin said he could feel the excitement in the week leading up to game day from watching the RVs pull in on Thursday night, feeling “the electricity in town” on Friday and “driving the blue buses” to Beaver Stadium on Saturday.

The Nittany Lions were welcomed home by 105,323 fans, the most for a home-opener since 2008.

“With COVID last year and not having the opportunity to play in front of all these fans, it was a real humbling experience seeing everyone out here again,” Jonathan Sutherland said after Penn State’s 44-13 win. “The environment was crazy. We love the fans and appreciate them.”

From running out of the south end zone gate to singing the alma mater after the game, it felt as though Beaver Stadium returned to its former glory, being mostly empty throughout the 2020 season.

Saturday’s victory over the Cardinals marked Penn State’s 300th win in Beaver Stadium, and the team enjoyed every moment of it.

“It's probably easier for us to take that for granted,” Noah Cain said. “You see it so much, but when it gets taken away, you really get to see how much everything means to the players. It was crazy to come back out here and see the students yelling — our parents and everybody out here. [It’s] just a blessing to be back out on the field.”

Franklin appreciated all the support the team received from its loyal fanbase on Saturday after not enjoying its presence for all of last season.

“In some ways, it was emotional,” Franklin said. “The welcome that we got was unbelievable. The environment was great here. I'm very appreciative of that, and I know the community is appreciative of it as well.”

The connection between Penn State and its fan base is described by some as a family bond, which the team felt as soon as it pulled up to Beaver Stadium.

The blue and white feeds off of the crowd’s energy throughout the game, which gives it extra motivation to work for a win.

“We do it for them,” Jesse Luketa said. “We work so hard to come in here and put on a show for them because ultimately they’re our biggest support and so extremely grateful. When we're at home, I'm with my family. Whenever we have the opportunity to have our fans pack the stadium and sing the alma mater, we're together. There's no better feeling than that.”

Coming off a blistering win over Ball State, the Nittany Lions have momentum heading into next week’s White Out game against Auburn.

Franklin acknowledged how big of a role the Penn State fans played in Saturday’s game, but he wants them to turn out in even greater numbers against the Tigers.

“I thought it had an impact on the game today,” Franklin said. “We're going to need that moving forward. We obviously have a huge game next week, and we're going to need this place rocking.”

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