Penn State defeats Badgers, 24-21, in OT|
Monday, November 26, 2012
By Andy Stine Sports Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK - Throughout the last year, the senior class of the Penn State football team has shown there is a lot more to play for than winning championships and going to bowl games.
For their efforts in keeping most of the team together after the NCAA handed down crippling sanctions, "2012" was placed on the Beaver Stadium facade of championship and undefeated teams during the Senior Day celebration before Saturday's game with Wisconsin.
The ending of the matchup against Wisconsin fit perfectly for those seniors as Badger kicker Kyle French's 44-yard field goal hooked to the left to give the Nittany Lions a 24-21 overtime victory to send out the seniors in grand fashion.
Penn State kicker Sam Ficken, who struggled early in the season and missed four field goals in a loss to Virginia in the second week of the season, hit a 37-yarder in the Nittany Lions' possession in the extra period.
"I said a Hail Mary and an Our Father," said Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien. "I'm not sure that really worked. I just knew our kids played hard and I was just hoping that he hooked it, and that's what he did.
"You can't say enough about Wisconsin, and I have a lot of respect for (Wisconsin head coach) Bret Bielema. I really like the way he plays the game and coaches the game. It's tough football, Big Ten football. They did a great job defensively against us, and I thought our defense hung tough. You can't say enough about Wisconsin, and I wished them luck after the game in next week's game."
"I feel great for these kids, especially these seniors. They put in a lot of work. You go all the way back to when I first came here after the Super Bowl and started the 5:30 a.m. workouts, then all of the things that came up during the offseason off the field. You just can't say enough about these kids.
"Again, it may be a little redundant, but I've been around some special teams and this is a very special football team because of the players and especially the seniors."
The Nittany Lion defense struggled in the first quarter, giving up two touchdowns on the Badgers' first two possessions. The first came on a Melvin Gordon 57-yard pass from Curt Phillips to give Wisconsin a 7-0 lead.
After Penn State running back Zach Zwinak punished the Badger defense with nine rushes for 41 yards and a touchdown on the Lions first drive, Wisconsin answered with a 17-yard touchdown run by Montee Ball to put Wisconsin up 14-7 with 6:27 to go in the first quarter.
The score was Ball's 79th touchdown of his career, which broke a Football Bowl Subdivision record.
On their first series of the second half, Zwinak kept running hard and led this team down to the Wisconsin 6-yard line. On third-and-goal, Matt McGloin found receiver Brandon Moseby-Felder in the back of the end zone for what appeared to be a touchdown. After reviewing the play, it was found that Moseby-Felder juggled the ball before falling out of bounds and the touchdown was called back. Instead, Penn State settled for a Ficken 23-yard field goal.
Later in the third quarter, Ficken drilled another field goal from 32 yards to put the score at 14-13 heading to the fourth quarter.
Zwinak finished the game with 36 carries for 179 yards and finished the season with 1,000 rushing yards.
"Zach has really played well for us the last six, seven, eight weeks of the season," said O'Brien. " We just go with the hot back. We have a lot of good backs.
"There's nothing wrong with any other back. It's just Zach's gone in there, and you rush for 180 yards against Wisconsin's defense, you're doing something good because Wisconsin's got a very stout defense."
"Was it part of the game plan? I think as we go into a game, we have a game plan and then see how the game's going and we try to figure it out as it goes. We could've done some things better tonight, but Zach certainly ran hard."
"It means a lot," said Zwinak. "It was just a number. Today was all about coming out and playing and giving everything we had for the seniors. That's what the most important thing is here. But to the 1,000 yards, I have to thank my line. In the games I've played they've opened up a lot of holes and let me rush for 1,000."
Early in the fourth quarter, on fourth-and-6 from the Wisconsin 41-yard line, O'Brien elected to go for the first down and the call proved to be worth it. McGloin hit a wide-open Jesse James for the first down and sprinted down the sideline for the touchdown. Zwinak ran in the 2-point conversion to put Penn State up 21-14.
With just 18 seconds left in the game, Phillips hit Badger wide receiver Jeff Duckworth for a four-yard touchdown to force overtime. The score capped a 14-play, 66-yard drive for Wisconsin.
Penn State finished the season at 8-4 and cannot play in a bowl game due to the NCAA sanctions. Wisconsin (7-5) travels to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Saturday against Nebraska for the Big Ten championship.
"This means a ton," said O'Brien. "It would've been terrible to come in here and not win that game after that pregame ceremony. When they put your 2012 team up there with those other teams, those are undefeated, championship teams. That means a lot. I thought there was a lot riding on this game for these players. I'm not sure there are many bowl games out there that are going to be played like that one.
"There's a lot there and just a fantastic senior class. They came to practice every day, they communicated well with the coaching staff. Some of them are probably a little bittersweet, maybe they wish they could play a little bit more football for Penn State. It's just a great bunch of guys."