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Great way to go out

Written by: on Sunday, November 25th, 2012. Follow William Albright on Twitter.



UNIVERSITY PARK — When the Penn State football team welcomed the Wisconsin Badgers to Happy Valley Saturday afternoon, the Lions left no stones unturned. They left everything they had on the field.

After battling each other for sixty minutes, neither team could decide the issue as the two teams headed for overtime, deadlocked at 21-all.

Not to let things get away from them, the Lions took care of business in the first overtime as they came away with a hard-fought 24-21 win over the Badgers on Senior Day.

“Personally when I came here it was after a Super Bowl,” began PSU head coach Bill O’Brien. “We started the 5 a.m. workouts and then with all of the things that came up during the off-season, you just can’t say enough about these kids. Maybe it is a little redundant, but I have been around some special teams and believe me, this is a very special football team.”

When Penn State’s first possession of the overtime stalled, Sam Ficken drilled a 37-yard field goal for a 24-21 PSU lead. For Ficken, it was his 10th straight field goal after getting off to a horrible start.

“There’s a kid, too, that; I guess there are a lot of examples like Sam Ficken on this football team that really just worked at it and improved all year,” said O’Brien of his kicker. “Week-to-week, day-to-day and I couldn’t be prouder of Sam Ficken. To think of where he came from to where we are tonight, kicking the winning kick. I can’t say enough about him and the way he rallied tonight and he made some big kicks for us tonight.”

Now holding a 3-point lead, it was time for the Lion defensive unit to step up and preserve the win and that is exactly what it did.

Starting its overtime session on the Lions’ 25-yard line, Montee Ball was held to just one yard on first down. Earlier in the game, Ball scored his 79th career touchdown, a NCAA record.

On second down, Sean Stanley came up with a huge play when he sacked Wisconsin quarterback Curt Phillips, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Wisconsin.

On third down, Phillips hit linebacker Glenn Carson right between the numbers, but Carson couldn’t hold on and the incomplete pass fell to the turf.

Then came possibly the biggest play for both teams as on fourth down, Wisconsin kicker Kyle French made his way onto the field, O’Brien called timeout, and following the stoppage in play, French hooked his kick to the left of the uprights to send the Nittany Lion team and its fans into a frenzy.

The two teams began the fray as though they had a mission to pop all of the bulbs on the scoreboard as they combined for 21 points in less than ten minutes for a 14-7 Badger lead.

The two teams traded touchdowns on their first possessions, but they took different routes to get the job done.

Wisconsin scored on the fourth play of the game, a 57-yard pass play from quarterback Curt Phillips to running back Melvin Gordon. It was the first touchdown surrendered by PSU in the first quarter this year.

The Lions came back to manufacture a 78-yard drive that covered 78 yards. Zack Zwinak capped the march with a 3-yard TD run. Sam Ficken’s PAT tied the score at 7-all with 8:17 left in the period.

The Badgers came right back to take the lead for the second time as they again only needed four plays to get the job done, Montee Ball ripping off the right side of his offensive line for 17 yards and the score.

However, after the offensive explosion to begin the game, the two teams settled in to play some old-fashioned, smash-mouth football for the rest of the half and the Badgers took their 14-7 lead to the locker room at the break.

After being held off the board for nearly 25 minutes, the Lions crept closer to the Badgers when Sam Ficken answered with a pair of field goals to cut the Wisconsin lead to a single point at 14-13.

Following the pair of touchdowns by the Badgers, the Lion defense stepped up and controlled the game as the next eight Wisconsin possessions ended with a punt before the ninth stoppage was turned in when Williamsport High product Jacob Fagnano, playing in his final game as a Nittany Lion, stepped in front of a Curt Phillips pass for an interception.

“We were creeping on the red zone there inside the 30 and the quarterback was giving us a couple reads that we liked,“ explained Fagnano. “I felt comfortable out there so we decided to check to a defense where we play a little bit of man and basically spy off the quarterback’s eyes and play backyard football. I made the correct read and I broke on the ball. I couldn’t even tell you what happened other than things worked out on that play.”

As a senior walk-on, Fagnano worked his way from the special teams to a starting safety in the Lions’ aresenal.

“I guess in a way this really describes my journey through Penn State, said Fagnano about what the interception and going out a winner meant to him. “I’ve been dreaming of playing here my whole life. It’s been a tough journey. I’ve had bumps and bruises along the way. There were times when things went my way and other times when they didn’t. All the hard work that I put in as well as all the hard work the seniors put in, the interception just tops everything.”

On the sixth play of the drive following Fagnano‘s pick, quarterback Matt McGloin hit Jesse James for a 41-yard pitch-and-catch for the touchdown. After James tip-toed his way down the sideline for the score, Zach Zwinak’s rush for the two points gave the Lions a 21-14 lead on the third play of the fourth quarter.

For the game, Zwinak had a career day as he rushed 36 times for 179 yards and a touchdown. With that total, Zwinak surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season.

“Coming into today, about two or three weeks ago, yes it was an idea, but today I needed a lot of yards to get to 1,000,“ said Zwinak. “I’m just happy I got a chance to reach that goal, but again it is all about the seniors today. We just went out and got the win for them.

After holding the Lions to a three-and-out inside the final five minutes of regulation, Wisconsin marched down the field in the final four-plus minutes to score a touchdown and the two teams headed to the decisive first overtime period.

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