NittanyNation will be counting down the top five moments of Penn State's season this week. The No. 1 moment of the season: Winning in OT on Senior Day
Michael Mauti choked back tears, and Matt Stankiewitch stared up at the private boxes as Penn State unveiled "2012" in blue numbers along the facade, honoring these seniors and making sure they'll be forever remembered among teams who won national titles and conference championships.
This ceremony happened before the kickoff on Nov. 24, and these Nittany Lions were determined to win on this emotional day. After a year of uncertainty and pledges and transfers and loyalty, these players vowed to uphold the notion that Penn State was neither down nor out.
On the last time these seniors would step foot inside Beaver Stadium, they held nothing back. Jordan Hill seemed to occupy every space on the interior and finished with a dozen tackles. Matt McGloin brushed off an early deficit. Gerald Hodges wore his fallen comrade's jersey.
This back-and-forth game, an instant classic, saw Wisconsin score a game-tying touchdown with 18 seconds left in regulation. Shortly after, Penn State's hopes were pinned on Sam Ficken -- who statistically was the worst kicker in the nation after the first few weeks. He redeemed his Virginia struggles with a 37-yard FG to hand PSU the lead. A pessimist would call it incredible, an optimist, poetic.
One possession later, as Bill O'Brien whispered Hail Marys and the team locked hands on the sideline, the Badgers would hook a field goal wide left. An entire offseason of adversity and disappointment, of struggles and loss, came to head at that moment, spilling over -- for some players -- in the form of tears and others with smiles. Most screamed; some remained silent.
Senior cornerback Stephon Morris tossed up his helmet in a fit of ecstasy -- so high that he couldn't find it a half-hour later. John Urschel had a goofy grin plastered to his face. Ficken called it a fairy-tale ending.
And, for this Penn State team, it surely was. This was the exclamation mark to Penn State's season, the proof that PSU was stronger than these sanctions. This was perhaps the most memorable final regular-season game in all of Penn State's 126 seasons.
This was a statement game. This was a game that showed, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the Lions were stronger than the sanctions and that O'Brien was one of this nation's best coaches. This showed Penn State wasn't going anywhere.
And that's why it's the top moment of the season.