The game started out as so many this year have. Penn State looked like it was on the ropes, standing on its wobbly feet as Wisconsin prepared to deliver the knockout blow. Like so many other times when the team was down, Trace McSorley and his teammates refused to throw in the towel. Bruised, bloodied and battered, the Penn State team and its fans that filled the Lucas Oil Stadium hung in the fight until the final whistle.
The first drive was typical for the Badgers. Going 14 plays for 80 yards, using 7 minutes off the clock in the process, Wisconsin got out to an early 7-point lead. The drive was aided by a late hit out of bounds by linebacker Manny Bowen of Penn State.
Penn State was unsuccessful in its first two drives of the game. Wisconsin took the ball for the second time and needed just two plays to make its second score, a 67-yard touchdown run by Corey Clement. The quick 14-point lead for the Badgers had the Penn State fans a little bit subdued as the Lions took the field on offense for the third time.
Trace McSorley, who threw for 384 yards and four touchdowns on the day along the way to being named the game’s MVP, led his team down the field for a touchdown to cut the lead in half, 14-7. The drive was highlighted by a Saquon Barkley 22-yard run to start the effort, finished off by a great catch in the endzone by Mike Gesicki.
The third possession for the Lions was a disaster. Trace McSorley and Brian Gaia were not able to connect on a routine shotgun snap, the ball went over McSorley’s head and was recovered by Wisconsin for its third touchdown of the game.
The next drive wasn’t much better, as the Lions faced 4th and 2 from its own 42 yard line. Making a curious but very aggressive decision, James Franklin decided to try for the conversion, but the team failed as McSorley was chased from the pocket and forced to throw the ball away.
Wisconsin made the decision hurt, as it punched in a fourth touchdown in short order to extend the lead to 28-7. With the fumble and short field provided by the 4th down stop, the Badgers scored 14 points with just 42 yards of offense to put the Lions on their heels.
On the next possession Penn State found itself once again facing a fourth and one near midfield. Once again Franklin chose to go for the conversion but the team did not get the yardage. With a short field to defend, Brent Pry and his defense stiffened, providing a much-needed hold for the Nittany Lions.
On the final Penn State drive of the first half Trace McSorley breathed life into his team and the crowd wearing white inside of Lucas Oild Stadium. He hit Saeed Blacknall in the back of the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 28-14 at the half.
After halftime Wisconsin took the ball and drove down the field, setting up a 47 yard field goal attempt. The kick sailed wide right and on the next play from scrimmage, Saeed Blacknall caught a 70-yard bomb from McSorley to cut the lead to just seven points.
Another Badger drive and another Penn State defensive hold gave Penn State a chance to tie. It went down the field with a deliberate, methodical 8 play 63 yard drive. On the series, the Lions never needed a third down conversion as it gobbled up yards along the way.
Wisconsin countered with a long drive that resulted in a field goal. On the first play of the next drive, Trace McSorley hit DaeSean Hamilton with a 38-yard pass to get the Lions on the Badger side of the field. Three plays later the drive was capped with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Saquon Barkley. The Lions took a 35-31 lead with 13:41 remaining on the clock.
The Lions’ defense was able to hold Wisconsin on the following drive and added a Tyler Davis field goal with just five minutes left in the game to give Penn State a 38-31 lead. The defense needed one more play on the final series of the game, when the Badgers faced a critical fourth and one on the Lion’s 24 yard-line with just one minute left in the game.
With the entire crowd in the stadium on its feet, and those around the country watching at home on the edges of their seats, Grant Haley stopped Corey Clement short of the first down yardage for the turnover on downs.
Penn State was able to run out the clock, barely, to capture the Big Ten Championship. With just 3 seconds left in the game, facing a fourth down but not wanting to punt the ball away, Franklin called time out. He instructed a quasi-victory formation, with DaeSean Hamilton and Saquon Barkley standing beside Trace McSorley in the shotgun formation. McSorley took the snap, ran around for three seconds, and then went to the turf as the players and fans on the sideline rushed the field in celebration.
It was an amazing victory for the Penn State team, and also the community that has supported it through some of the toughest years imaginable.
Hugs All Around
In the stands, at home, and on the field directly following the game there was an emotional release. The feelings weren’t completely due to the game itself, although it was perhaps the greatest Penn State football win in recent history. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley shared a long hug with all-time great PSU running back Blair Thomas on the field after the game.
Coach Franklin was hugging everyone in sight. It was hard to tell at times who was more happy for the Old Bald Coach, he or his supporters.
When he found Saeed Blacknall, the two got very emotional. Blacknall exploded for 6 catches, 155 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
I’m sure many fans hugged it out throughout the course of the celebration. Life is good for Penn State football. Enjoy this everyone, it is a time that we will all remember for years to come.