Players rushed the field, helmets flew in the air, adults jumped for joy, tears flowed – never has such a supposedly meaningless game meant so much to so many.
That was the scene a split second after Wisconsin kicker Kyle French’s overtime field goal attempt sailed wide left and a frigid Beaver Stadium erupted.
The missed kick gave Penn State a 24-21 victory over Wisconsin and an eighth win a season when many predicted and hoped for much less.
More than that, the missed kick gave the Nittany Lions a walk-off win they deserved. It gave this group a reason to throw their helmets in the air and scream and run around with unbridled joy.
If there was any group of players and coaches that deserved to do that it was this 2012 Penn State University football team.
If there was one dominate takeaway from a day full of many – that was it.
For the fans, this was a chance for those that showed up (despite it being Thanksgiving weekend) and stayed until the end (it was frigid) to celebrate with its heroes that stuck it out through far more than the inconvenience of a holiday game and cold weather.
In fact, if fans knew that Penn State was going to win, they wouldn’t have wanted any other ending.
But, of course, that’s not how real life games are. Nobody knew for sure how it was going to end. They only knew that it would be more than cruel for this group of players to lose its final game of this season – at home, in overtime.
The nerves in the stadium were as much for not wanting that horrible ending for this team – for these seniors – as it was for wanting a victory.
That feeling is a testament to the individuals on this team and their character.
Beyond that, the range of emotions and storylines were numerous from Saturday. It’s impossible to know where to start.
Normally that’s generates more than enough emotion, but that was only the start.
2012 was unveiled on the luxury boxes to honor this team’s place in Penn State history.
The number 42 was on the side of every player’s helmet to honor injured senior linebacker Michael Mauti.
Senior All-American linebacker Gerald Hodges wore Mauti’s jersey during the game.
The giant thank you card done by the east side of the stadium was a nice touch
That just was all before the game started.
Penn State, which has been nearly perfect in first quarters all season, gave up two early touchdowns.
Yet, the Nittany Lions, who have stumbled in second halves of all their losses during the season, were dominant throughout this one.
How about Zach Zwinak rushing for 179 yards? Zach Zwinak, who came out of spring practice as the fourth string tailback, got to 1,000 yards on the season.
Sam Ficken. Sam Ficken? Yes, that Sam Ficken. The same guy that kicked during the Virginia game. The same guy that forced Bill O’Brien to try more fourth down conversions this season than most teams try in a decade.
That same Sam Ficken kicked the game-winning field goal in overtime into a horrible wind.
Ficken, in fact, was perfect on the day with three field goals and an extra point. Ficken, in fact, was 10-for-10 in his last 10 field goals of the season.
If there’s a guy that embodies the resiliency this football team displayed this year – it’s Sam Ficken.
Meaningless? Wisconsin came to Beaver Stadium knowing it already had a spot secured in the Big 10 championship game. Many felt Wisconsin had nothing to play for.
But the Badgers had also lost two overtimes games in the last three weeks and, by all accounts, were desperate to right the ship before heading to Indianapolis.
And Penn State, well Penn State has played all season with the knowledge that the last time it would take the field would be Saturday against Wisconsin. The Lions weren’t eligible for the Big 10 championship game, the Rose Bowl or any other bowl for that matter.
So it’s not hard to see why to those outside Madison and the Penn State community this game didn’t matter.
But for Penn Staters this game meant everything. The wild celebration after it was over proved that – and no group has ever been more deserving to participate in one.
Follow Marty Valania on Twitter @EastRecruiting.