Silence engulfed Penn State’s sideline as Venric Mark scurried into the endzone to give Northwestern an 11-point lead.
Mark’s 75-yard punt return touchdown gave his team a 28-17 advantage with 15:50 to play in the game temporarily knocked the wind out of the Nittany Lions’ sails.
However, the Lions leaned on Bill O’Brien’s spirited reinforcement and a resilient attitude to regain energy and complete the 180-degree turnaround. Penn State responded to Mark’s touchdown with two long scoring drives to retake the lead for good and tacked on another late score in its 39-28 win over Northwestern.
O’Brien said he sensed his players losing some emotion after allowing the return touchdown.
“What you have to do as a coach and as a coaching staff, you have to bring them together,” O’Brien said. “You have to point at the clock and say, ‘Look, guys, it’s an 11-point lead with 50 seconds left in the third quarter. There’s a huge amount of time to play football.’ ”
Despite the brief lack of energy, O’Brien said it didn’t take long for the players to come back to life.
“Nobody [was] down. There’s no quit in that locker room,” O’Brien said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen the rest of the year, but there will be no quit with those kids that are sitting in the locker room.”
Penn State subsequently executed an 18-play drive, converting on four third downs and ending with a fourth-down touchdown pass to Allen Robinson.
Center Matt Stankiewitch said the team gained momentum from the touchdown, which brought Penn State within three points after a two-point conversion. However, O’Brien made sure the offense kept its sights on the next opportunity to score.
“We rose from when we were down,” Stankiewitch said. “We kept chopping away and when we got closer and scored, we kept chopping away and we knew we had to score again. The credit goes to Coach O’Brien for keeping that attitude up.”
After the Lions forced a quick three-and-out, McGloin orchestrated another lengthy drive to regain the lead on his five-yard touchdown rush.
McGloin said, despite the 11-point deficit, the offense didn’t panic because it has scored that amount of points in one quarter several times this season.
“The crowd was still into it, and we were still into it, so we knew we had to make something happen,” McGloin said.
Penn State held off the Wildcats to complete its first comeback victory of the season, scoring 22 unanswered points in the final quarter.
Senior Jordan Hill said the team’s emotional turnaround epitomized what this year’s team represents.
“We stick together,” Hill said. “We know that we’re going to get back up. It just showed through a game what we’ve been through and how we’re going to come back. If we’re knocked down, we’re not going to be down for long.”