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Penn State Football: Nittany Lions Win in Overtime, 24-21

by on November 24, 2012 3:29 PM

They said that Penn State would heal over time.

Apparently, all it took was overtime. And a winning 37-yard field goal in overtime by Sam Ficken. (Yes, that Sam Ficken.)

In the Nittany Lions’ final regular-season game of a bowl-less season, coming on the heels of a scandal-ful year, Penn State defeated Wisconsin, 24-21, on a blustery and dark Senior Day afternoon in Beaver Stadium.

It was a far cry from the Nittany Lions' 45-7 loss to Wisconsin in Madison two days shy of a year ago.

And how.

On Saturday, the Nittany Lions won with grit, coming back after a 14-0 first quarter deficit. They won with the newest Penn State 1,000-yard rusher in Zach Zwinak, who ran 36 times for 179 yards.

They won with a defense that held Wisconsin’s Montee Bell to 111 yards on 27 carries, and was led by linebacker Gerald Hodges, wearing No. 42 in honor of injured Michael Mauti. They won with Mauti’s No. 42 on every helmet. They won with linebacker Glenn Carson's 13 tackles and 12 tackles, with two sacks, by defensive tackle Jordan Hill.

They won with quarterback Matt McGloin throwing his Penn State-record 46th touchdown pass to freshman tight end Jesse James. And they won with receiver Allen Robinson, who had four catches for 35 yards, giving him 1,013 yards for the year, joining Bobby Engram as the only Nittany Lion receivers to crack 1,000 yards for a season.

They won their eighth game against four losses. And they won for and because of first-year head coach Bill O’Brien.

The difference? Ficken made that 37-yard field goal in the first overtime, while Wisconsin’s Kyle French missed his try from 45 yards.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Ficken.

McGloin was 19 of 37 for 200 yards passing, while Wisconsin's Curt Phillips was 12 of 25 for 191 yards, with two TD passes and an interception. Wisconsin moves to 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten, while Penn State finishes 8-4 and 6-2 in the Big Ten. Because both Penn State and undefeated Ohio State are not eligible to represent the Leaders Division in the Big Ten championship, Wisconsin will advance despite its .500 conference mark.

Penn State's next game is Aug. 31, 2013, against Syracuse in MetLife Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands. Only 281 days from now...


After Penn State safety Jake Fagnano stopped a Wisconsin drive with an interception at the six-yard line with five minutes remaining, the Badgers got one more chance during regulation.

And they made the most of it. Beginning the drive on their own 34 with 4:04 left in regulation, the Badgers went 66 yards in 14 plays in 3:33. Wisconsin scored on a four-yard TD pass from quarterback Curt Phillips to wide receiver Jeff Duckworth. Wisconsin’s Kyle French made the PAT to tie the game, 21-21, and send it into overtime. The last time Penn State played in an overtime game was on 2006 at Minnesota. Penn State won that game 28-27.

Here's how Penn State took the lead, 21-14:

McGloin rolled left. And left. And left.

Then he hit it just right -- completing a pass to the tight end, James, who was running left to right across midfield. The senior quarterback connected with the freshman receiver, who raced along the left sideline and into the end zone for a 41-yard touchdown and a 19-14 Penn State lead.

The Nittany Lions went for a two-point conversion, as McGloin made an inside hand-off to Zwinak, who dove inside for two points. Penn State led 21-14 with 13:32 left in the game. Penn State’s go-ahead drive took only six plays, including a pass interference call against James, and went 67 yards.

A key play on the drive was a 19-yard completion from McGloin to Robinson. With the catch, Robinson eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving barrier (1,013 yards), just the second Nittany Lion to do so, after Engram, who did it in 1994 (1,029) and 1995 (1,084.)


ZZ certainly didn’t lull Wisconsin to sleep in the third quarter. In fact, on the scoring drive that pulled Penn State to within 14-13 against Wisconsin, Zwink was a bit of a nightmare.

He started off the Nittany Lions at their own 13 by busting off a 24-yard run. Robinson then drew a 15-yard penalty on Wisconsin, for pass interference, and Zwink reeled off runs of 9, 6 and 4 yards – giving him a single-game career high of 157 yards, 66 of those in the third quarter.

Zwinak’s rushing prowess set up a 32-yard field goal by Ficken, his second of the day. Ficken’s first came earlier in the quarter and came with its own helping of drama.

Never in the history of Beaver Stadium has a Nittany Lion field goal – in this case, a 23-yarder by Ficken – been greeted with so many boos. Or so it seemed. Here’s why: On a third-and-goal from Wisconsin’s 6, McGloin threw a pass to Brandon Moseby-Felder, who made the reception at the edge of the end zone, just past the “S” in State. The referees on the field called it a touchdown, which would have pulled the Lions to within 14-13. But the replay officials overturned the call, saying BMF was out-of-bounds, and O’Brien settled for the field goal by Ficken.

Hence the boos. With the three-pointer – which came on the tail end of an 11-play, 77-yard drive – Penn State trailed 14-10. On the drive, McGloin got his groove back, with completions to Alex Kenney (14 yards), Robinson (6) and James (37).


Wisconsin doesn’t have the second-ranked defense in the Big Ten for nothing.

The Badgers, who yield an average of 303 yards per game, were right on track against the Nittany Lions in the first half on their way to a 14-7 halftime lead on Senior Day in Beaver Stadium. Penn State had just 131 yards of offense the first half – 84 rushing and just 47 through the air.

That’s a far cry from the pace McGloin had set the previous four games, with three of the four games over 300 yards – including a 395-yard effort last week against Indiana. In the first half against the Badgers, McGloin was 10 of 18, with his average completion going 2.6 yards.

Zwinak leads Penn State in rushing with 92 yards, and now has 913 rushing yards on the season – 87 short of 1,000 for the season after gaining just two yards in the first three games.

For Wisconsin, Bell has rushed for 84 yards on 13 carries. Wisconsin quarterback Curt Phillips is only 3 of 6, but the three completions have gone for 84 yards with a 57-yard touchdown.


The game inside Beaver Stadium is two-player stud. And both aces are running backs. You can just hear Wisconsin coach Brett Bielema saying, “I’ll see your Zach Zwinak, and raise you Montee Ball.”

Less than two minutes after Zwinak’s touchdown run allowed Penn State to pull within a tie, 7-7, in the first quarter, Ball made college football history.

The Badgers’ behemoth back ran 17 yards for a touchdown, No. 79 of his Wisconsin career and an all-time NCAA record. (The record of 78 was previously held by Miami, Ohio’s Travis Prentice.) The score also gave Wisconsin a 14-7 lead following a 4-play, 53-yard drive.

The previous series, Zwinak literally carried the Penn State offense, doing yeoman’s duty on his way to a three-yard touchdown run. The score, and Ficken’s PAT, tied the game at 7-7 with 8:17 left in the first quarter.

On the drive, Zwinak carried the ball nine times for 41 yards, caught one pass for five yards and drew a pass interference penalty on Wisconsin for 15 additional yards. The rest of the PSU offense handled the other four plays. In all, Penn State went 78 yards in 15 plays and 4:50.

In the battle of the backs, Zwinak won the first quarter, rushing 14 times for 70 yards. Ball carried five times for 45 yards

Lengthy and emotion-filled pre-game Senior Day ceremonies inside Beaver Stadium may have been a distraction. But the Wisconsin offense was the opening attraction.

The Badgers took just four plays and less than two minutes to take an early 7-0 lead against Penn State in the final game of the season for the Nittany Lions. The Badgers used a pair of runs by Ball to set a 56-yard scoring strike from Phillips to Melvin Gordon. French’s PAT gave Wisconsin a 7-0 lead just 1:49 into the game.

The score was the first touchdown allowed by the Penn State defense in 12 games in 2012. The Lion defense was playing without Mauti, who was injured last week against Indiana. He is being honored by teammate and fellow linebacker Gerald Hodges, who is wearing No. 42 in place of his usual No. 6. Mauti’s No. 42 is also displayed on the side of the Penn State players’ helmets.

Related Game-Day Stories:

Penn State Football Pregame Notes: Teammates Honor Mauti by Wearing Number on Helmet

A Capsule Look at All 31 Nittany Lion Seniors for Today's Senior Day

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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