Editor's Note: Charlotte Tomlin is an eighth grader whose dream job is to be a sideline reporter. She covered the Cotton Bowl for Sports Illustrated Kids through the Kid Reporter program.
ARLINGTON, Texas — As I walked through the Memphis team tunnel, I slowly laughed in disbelief. Never in a million years would I have dreamed of being on the field where two top college football teams were about to face off. I took a slow lap around the field, soaking in the atmosphere. Thanks to Sports Illustrated Kids, I would finally live out my dream of reporting on a college football game.
In the first-ever meeting between No. 10 Penn State and No. 17 Memphis, tensions were high as both teams hoped to win a New Year’s Six bowl game. If Penn State won the 2019 Cotton Bowl Classic, it would clinch its third 11-win season in four years under coach James Franklin. If Memphis won, it would earn its first New Year’s Six victory in program history.
With the stakes for the Nittany Lions and Tigers high, AT&T Stadium quickly filled up with rowdy fans. Memphis won the coin toss but deferred the option to receive the kickoff. Memphis came out of the gate strong, forcing the Lions to punt after going three-and-out. On its opening drive, Memphis kicked a 48-yard field goal and Penn State answered with a touchdown. Two minutes and 12 seconds later, Memphis responded with a touchdown of its own to regain the lead.
It was in that moment I tapped my pen on the table, dreaming up what to write in my article, while all around me veteran reporters typed on their computers.
At the end of the first quarter, Memphis led Penn State 13-7. But by halftime, Penn State had a 35-23 lead—the Nittany Lions dominated the second quarter, forcing two fumbles and one sack with their offense scoring three touchdowns.
It seemed like every time I picked up my pen to write something else, the crowd roared because of another big play. The excitement was contagious and I couldn't prevent a smile from spreading across my face.
Just three minutes into the second half, Memphis scored another touchdown, demolishing the over-under score of 60 points for the game. But by the end of the third quarter, Penn State took a more commanding 44-36 lead after intercepting a pass from the Memphis quarterback Brady White and returning it for a touchdown. That pick-six sealed Memphis’ fate, and the game ended with the Nittany Lions prevailing, 53-39.
After the final whistle, I strode through the Memphis tunnel and back onto the field. Penn State fans cheered while Memphis fans hung their heads. Their disappointment was palpable.
The Cotton Bowl was the first game as Memphis’ head coach for Ryan Silverfield, who was recently promoted from offensive line coach to head coach following Mike Norvell’s departure to Florida State. Silverfield said he “wasn’t happy with the end result.” On the flip side, Franklin’s press conference was a little more positive. “This is a team that kind of lays the foundation of the future,” Franklin said.
Getting to walk onto the field and meet the players from both teams was a surreal experience for this Kid Reporter. As I sat in the press box surrounded by professional and experienced journalists I realized how Kid Reporters defy the stereotype of, “you’re too young.” Being a Kid Reporter has changed my life and I encourage young writers to apply for the program. You can change the game, just as Penn State turned the tables on Memphis.
As for next year, will Memphis and Penn State battle in a rematch? Or will they have even better seasons and make it to the College Football Playoff?