Ficken’s Kickin’ and Zwinak Lead Penn State to Overtime Win on Senior Day

Story posted November 25, 2012 in CommRadio, Sports by Eric DeBerardinis

Penn State’s memorable 2012 campaign that began with despair and frustration, ended Saturday, but with opposite emotions of accomplishment and jubilation. On a frigid Senior Day at Beaver Stadium, the Nittany Lions (8-4, 6-2) defeated the Wisconsin Badgers (7-5, 4-4) 24-21 in thrilling overtime fashion. Many players and coaches described the win as a fairytale ending to cap a rollercoaster season.

“I’ve been around some special teams,” stated Nittany Lion head coach Bill O’Brien. “This is a very special football team because of the players and especially the seniors.”

The final regular season game also marked the close to Penn State’s season. Despite finishing with a conventionally bowl-eligible record, the Nittany Lions are unable to advance to postseason play due to NCAA sanctions. Thus, Penn State’s remarkable senior class, embraced every moment even more in their self-described bowl game. O’Brien thinks it was even better than any postseason game.

“I’m not sure there are many bowl games out there that are going to be played like that one.”

Due to the finality of the game, there were a few attempts to mark the occasion. On September 1, names on the back of Penn State’s jerseys were introduced, but Saturday marked a different uniform change. Each player’s helmet featured the number 42, to honor injured teammate, Mike Mauti. Linebacking cohort and close friend, Gerald Hodges, took the honor a step further, adorning Mauti’s #42 during the game.

Holding back tears, Mauti said it was the biggest honor he could have ever received.

Following a lengthy pre-game ceremony, the Badgers quickly quieted the ramped up Senior Day crowd of 93,000 plus. In just their fourth play from scrimmage, quarterback, Curt Phillips found running back, Marvin Gordon, who raced untouched for a 57-yard touchdown. The score marked the first touchdown allowed by the Nittany Lion defense all season in the first quarter.

Beaver Stadium was almost immediately revived with Penn State’s following drive. The offense featured a heavy dose emerging star Zach Zwinak. The runningback caught one pass on three targets, and ran 9 times for 41 yards including a three-yard plow into the endzone.

The offense was carried all day by Zwinak, who tallied 179 yards on the day, and reached the 1,000 yard plateau for the season.

“I have to thank my line,” said Zwinak. “In the games I’ve played, they’ve opened up a lot of holes and let me rush for 1,000.”

Despite Penn State running the vamped up NASCAR offense, Wisconsin proved to be the more fast-paced version early on. After a nice kick return set up the Badgers at their own 47, they wasted no time in scoring another touchdown. Their second four-play touchdown series in a row was capped by a 17 yard touchdown run by Montee Ball. The score was Ball’s 79th touchdown of his career, making him the NCAAs all-time total touchdown leader.

Wisconsin nearly capitalized on a few occasions in the second quarter, but ultimately no points were scored. The teams went into halftime tied 14-7.

The Nittany Lions received the kickoff to start the third quarter, and looked as though they were on their way to tying the game.

Matt McGloin appeared to find Brandon Moseby-Felder in the back of the endzone for six-yard touchdown pass. Instead, for the second time in three weeks, an official’s review cost the Nittany Lions six points. Upon replay, refs deemed Moseby-Felder did not maintain possession of the ball. Rather than a touchdown, Penn State had to settle for a short field goal from Sam Ficken.

A riled up defense came onto the field for Penn State, and forced Wisconsin to its fifth consecutive punt. The defense was led throughout the day by the disruptive defensive tackle, Jordan Hill. The senior limped off the field midway through the second quarter, but returned just a few plays later and could be found in the offensive backfield for the rest of the game. Hill’s play highlighted a tremendous final three quarters from Penn State’s defense.

“I thought Ted (Roof) did a really good job, along with the defensive staff, making some adjustments after those first couple series,” said O’Brien.

Penn State added another field goal, but trailed 14-13 heading into the final quarter.

A gutsy 4th-and-6 call from Bill O’Brien resulted in a go-ahead touchdown from Jesse James who sprinted in for the for the 41-yard score. Zwinak rumbled into the endzone for the 2-point conversion and a 7-point lead.

A Wisconsin threat was stopped when safety, Jacob Fagnano picked off a Phillip’s pass inside the redzone. Fagnano, who grew up a Penn State fan, seemed to have effectively ended the game. However, the offense did not maintain possession long enough, giving the Badgers a final chance to score, in which they capitalized.

Even though there will be no bowl appearance for Penn State, their season did consist of one extra period of play.

A desperation fourth-down touchdown pass from Phillips to Jeff Duckworth, with just 18 seconds remaining, catapulted the eventful match-up into overtime. Penn State went on offense first and when their drive stalled, they called upon Ficken for a 37-yarder. The white-hot kicker did not disappoint, giving Penn State the lead.

“It was just like every other kick,” Ficken said.

This one meant something more though. It was also the first game-winning kick of the redshirt sophomore’s career.

The Nittany Lions defense swarmed Wisconsin on their first and only overtime possession, setting up a 44-yard field goal for Badger kicker, Kyle French. French missed wide left, sending Beaver Stadium into mayhem and the senior class off on a high.

O’Brien said he muttered a few prayers before each kick, hoping for differing results.

Hill said he initially tried to block the kick, but it didn’t matter.

“I turned around and saw it veering to the left,” said Hill. “It was one of the greatest feelings I ever had.”

Despite the loss, Wisconsin will move on to Big 10 Championship next week in Indianapolis against Nebraska.

Penn State will open the 2013 season in East Rutherford, New Jersey, to take on Syracuse in the New Meadowlands Stadium.

But for 31 seniors, Saturday marked their final time donning the Blue and White. O’Brien   
couldn’t have asked for a better class.

“When they put your 2012 team up there with those other teams; those are undefeated, championship teams. That means a lot,” said O’Brien. “It’s just a great bunch of guys.”

Hill recognizes he and his teammate’s role in a memorable season.

“I want it (the season) to go down in history, not for the wins,” said Hill. “But for the character of all these guys and everything that we’ve been through and how to overcome stuff when you get knocked down.”

Eric DeBerardinis is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, e-mail