It was one last chance for the seniors to demonstrate what they came here to do, amid constant reminders of all that was asked of them.
The senior class didn’t just celebrate its Senior Day with an exhilarating 24-21 victory over Wisconsin, capped by an overtime field goal from Sam Ficken and a dominating defensive stop to seal the deal.
Before all of this was the emotional unveiling of the number "2012" on the facade in Beaver Stadium, which laid the foundation for a day that solidifies the team as one of the most memorable in Penn State football history.
After the chaotic celebration ensued and the dust settled, coach Bill O’Brien said his team being honored before the game left the team with even more incentive to come out on top.
“It would have been terrible to come in here and not win that game after that pre-game ceremony,” O’Brien said. “When they put your 2012 team up there next to those great teams…those are undefeated, championship teams. That means a lot.”
A back-and-forth first quarter was ignited by a four-play, 74-yard drive and after another touchdown from both sides, it ended with the Badgers leading 14-7. The game saw just six points scored over the next two quarters, however, as the Lions’ defense recovered to give up just two first downs in both frames.
The Lions pounced on their opponent with a 41-yard touchdown strike to tight end Jesse James to start the fourth quarter, offering the home team a 21-14 lead following a successful two-point conversion on a Zach Zwinak rush.
Yet, after holding the Badgers offense out of the endzone for the majority of the quarter, the Lions gave up a crushing four-yard touchdown on fourth down with just 18 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
“It was definitely a blow, but was there honestly one person in the stadium that thought this team was going to quit?” senior Pete Massaro said. “And we didn’t. We came out and we played our asses off.”
The Lions struck first in their first overtime game of the year with a 37-yard field goal from Sam Ficken, setting the stage for a game-deciding halt by the defense. The Badgers lost two yards on the possession and a 44-yard field goal attempt from Kyle French left the outcome of senior day out of many of the seniors’ hands.
Tackle Mike Farrell said he and guard John Urschel sat together on the bench and opted not to watch the final play of the game.
“I just closed my eyes and John and I were just sitting there holding hands, for probably 8-10 seconds before the kick,” Farrell said. “We weren’t looking and it seemed like 20 minutes we were just sitting there.”
Through the swirling wind of the frigid November evening, French’s kick hooked left and the celebration of a victorious finale was on.
Cornerback Stephon Morris said he and his fellow seniors took time to consciously seek each other out during the memorable moment.
“Right after that kick that they missed, every senior pretty much just hugged and just thanked each other and I told them how much we loved them,” Morris said.
Besides simply keeping the team together following the sanctions announced in July, this senior class will be remembered for finishing a successful season at 8-4 when many wrote the team off.
Fullback Michael Zordich said being honored with the senior class’ year in the stadium was great to see, but going out with a bang helped fortify its legacy.
“But we wanted to finish that job and that 2012 will definitely mean a lot more to us after we finished the season the way we did today,” Zordich said.
After a season filled with a roller-coaster of emotion, Jordan Hill, said it was only fitting to go out with such an exciting game.
Among other seniors, Hill said this game was the epitome of the senior class’ last 12 months as a part of the program.
“This game told our whole story of what we’ve been through since last November, just in game form,” Hill said. “We’ve been knocked down, we got back up…We weren’t just going to let that stop us.”