STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Sam Ficken hit a 37-yard field goal in overtime, and Wisconsin’s Kyle French attempt from 44 yards went wide left to seal Penn State’s 24-21 win Saturday in an emotional season finale in Happy Valley.
The Nittany Lions (8-4, 6-2 Big Ten) could have ended it for good a play earlier, but linebacker Glenn Carson dropped a potential interception.
Still, the Beaver Stadium faithful celebrated anyway after French’s miss on Senior Day capped a challenging year that began with landmark sanctions from the NCAA for the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.
Quarterback Curt Phillips found Jeff Duckworth for a 4-yard touchdown pass with 18 seconds left for Wisconsin (7-5, 4-4) to make it 21-all and send the game into overtime.
Badgers star running back Montee Ball ran for 111 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries, and set the NCAA record with his 97th career score.
But his record-setting day was overshadowed by bruising Penn State running back Zach Zwinak (career-high 179 yards and one score) and the late-game heroics of Ficken, who made all three field-goal attempts on the afternoon.
The last one made it just inside the left upright through light flurries – but it was good enough for the decisive score.
The players rushed in jubilation after French’s missed kick. Injured star linebacker Michael Mauti raised his hands in victory as he hobbled with his teammates to the sing alma mater in front of the student section.
Mauti and the seniors were instrumental in helping to keep most of the team together after the NCAA levied its landmark sanctions in July.
Most preseason prognosticators thought the Nittany Lions wouldn’t even finish with a winning record this year.
Instead, they rallied to win eight of 10 after an 0-2 start.
This is a very special team because of the players and because of these seniors, first-year coach Bill O’Brien said.
Wisconsin lost its second straight.
The Badgers finished the regular season in third place in the Leaders Division behind unbeaten Ohio State and Penn State but still claimed the title game berth because the two teams ahead of them are ineligible due to sanctions.
NORTHWESTERN 50, ILLINOIS 14: In Evanston, Ill., Venric Mark rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown as the Wildcats improved their chances for a berth in a New Year’s Day bowl game.
MICHIGAN STATE 26, MINNESOTA 10: In Minneapolis, Le’Veon Bell rumbled for a career-high 266 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown to put the game away and help the Spartans secure a spot in a bowl game.
Another seizure for Jerry Kill kept the Minnesota coach off the sideline for the second half. Kill’s latest seizure occurred in the locker room at halftime as the team was returning to the field. Athletic director Norwood Teague said Kill was resting comfortably, and all of his vital signs were fine. Kill was cleared to go home, without going to a hospital.
Kill had a seizure one near the end of a game last season and was away from the team for several days while doctors tried to bring his condition under better control.
This year, he was hospitalized after an occurrence following Minnesota’s loss to Northwestern on Oct. 13.