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Top Ten Plays of 2016 #2: 4th Down Stand Secures A Championship

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Grant Haley and Marcus Allen team up — again — in one of the most memorable plays in Penn State history.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Wisconsin vs Penn State Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

No one thought Penn State would be a one-yard stop away from winning the Big Ten Championship. Not after the loss to Pitt. Not after the drubbing against Michigan. Not during halftime against Minnesota. And certainly not after trailing Wisconsin 28-7 in the second quarter.

The doubt from those outside the program looks silly in retrospect because like they did all season — somehow, someway, no matter the circumstances — the Nittany Lions fought themselves back into the game against the Badgers. Brent Pry’s defensive unit tightened up, the offensive line gelled, and Trace McSorley just didn’t give a damn. Bombs to Saeed Blacknall and Dasean Hamilton put the Nittany Lions within striking distance, while Saquon Barkley burned a fool on a wheel route, giving Penn State the lead.

While Joe Moorhead and the Penn State offense deservedly got much of the accolades in 2016, it was the defense that would need to come up big in the game’s final moments. Trailing 38-31, Wisconsin was marching down the field deep inside Penn State territory when they were faced with a 4th-and-1. Everybody in the stadium knew the Badgers were going to go to their bread and butter — running the football.

“Did he get it?”

“Nooooooooo! He didn’t get it!”

Grant Haley and Marcus Allen teamed up to stuff Corey Clement on fourth down, giving Penn State the ball in the waning moments of the game. A program that was on the brink of potential extinction just 4.5 years earlier was now just a couple snaps away from winning its first Big Ten Championship since 2008. An improbable Hollywood script was no longer a fictional plot — it was reality. The Nittany Lions completed their return to national prominence.

Being at Lucas Oil Field that Saturday night, I’ll never forget the feeling of pure jubilation when I saw Haley sprint to the other end of the field with his hand raised, index finger pointed up, letting the entire world know that Penn State was back. While the Block Six will deservedly be the top play from 2016, this fourth down stand was the exclamation point to a magical year, and in some sense, the bridge to the post-sanctions era in Happy Valley.