As I watched the Penn State offense take the field with under three minutes remaining and facing a three-point deficit, I couldn't help but think about how an epic 92-yard game-winning touchdown drive would forever remain in Penn State lore. Despite a magnificent effort, the comeback bid came just a bit short. But following the heartbreak of a double-overtime loss to mighty Ohio State, in a game even the most ardent Penn State supporter had a difficult time imagining ending in victory, I realized a different moment may be remembered as the turning point for Penn State reclaiming its spot among the elite of the college football world.
As with each game I cover, I take a few moments to pause and scan the entirety of Beaver Stadium from the sidelines to allow all of my senses to fully soak up and appreciate the atmosphere. I did this through the pain and realization of an oh-so-close defeat of the Buckeyes that was not meant to be, and what I saw made me proud to count myself as a lifelong Penn State fan. There was no mass exodus of fans rushing to beat traffic. Instead, I witnessed an entire stadium full of people standing, waving their white pom-poms and cheering loudly for a group of student-athletes who absolutely left every ounce of effort they had in them on the field.
Players feed on the support of the fans. When I played the game (poorly, and at a much lower-level I should add) it meant the world to us to hear the cheers of even a few dozen friends and family who always believed in and supported us, no matter what. The display following Saturday's game could result in a major turning point for the Nittany Lions, not just for the remainder of the 2014 season, but for years to come.
The prospect of a noon game against an unfamiliar opponent following an extremely emotional loss is scary. But I believe this team will internalize the moment as they prepare for Maryland, as well as the other four remaining opponents of the 2014 season. Not only do they know they have the entire community supporting them no matter what, but they also are now aware that they can defeat anyone by playing smart and leaving it all out on the field. This is the second youngest team in the nation, who also happen to be shorthanded with scholarship athletes and hurting following a couple below-average years of recruiting following the scandal that rocked the program. Recruiting is on a major upswing and the roster is littered with talented young players who will continue to get better over time. We'll find out soon enough, but we may be starting to witness something truly special in Happy Valley.
My friends and neighbors can enjoy their victory this week. I'll take being part of the Penn State community now and forever any day of the week.