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PSU beats Wisconsin in OT, 24-21

| Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, 5:20 p.m.
Tribune-Review
Penn State Nittany Lions running back Zach Zwinak (28) dives for extra yardage against Wisconsin Badgers defenders at Beaver Stadium in University Park on November 24, 2012. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Tribune-Review
Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Bill O'Brien celebrates his team's 24-21 overtime victory over the Wisconsin Badgers at Beaver Stadium in University Park on November 24, 2012. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Tribune-Review
Penn State Nittany Lions tight end Jesse James (18) crosses the goaline ahead of Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Ethan Armstrong (36) on a 41 yard touchdown pass during the 4th quarter at Beaver Stadium in University Park on November 24, 2012. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review

UNIVERSITY PARK — The father whose life has become a daily struggle since suffering a stroke a couple of years ago promised his son that he wouldn't miss his final game at Penn State.

His father, his teammates and his coaches were why Jordan Hill told himself before every defensive series that he would not let Penn State lose on an emotional and blustery day at Beaver Stadium.

“I just felt it wasn't the way to end this book,” Hill said.

Hill followed up on his promise as he dominated Wisconsin while helping the defense overcome a shaky start, and Sam Ficken's 37-yard field goal in overtime proved to be the difference in Penn State's 24-21 win in front of an announced crowd of 93,505.

Penn State's defense couldn't hold a late lead, but it came up big after Ficken made his 10th consecutive field goal, forcing a 45-yard try that Wisconsin kicker Kyle French missed left.

In the fourth quarter and overtime session, Hill totaled eight tackles and three for losses.

Penn State finished 8-4, 6-2 in the Big Ten, giving it a much-needed boost heading into an offseason in which it will again have to deal with the fallout of NCAA sanctions.

Wisconsin dropped to 7-5, 4-4, but it will still represent the Legends Division in the Big Ten Championship game with Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for postseason play.

“I feel great for the kids, especially the seniors,” coach Bill O'Brien said after notching his first win against a marquee program. “To think we won eight of our last 10 games, it just sounds better than (7-5).”

There was no shortage of reasons as to why Penn State prevailed despite allowing Wisconsin to score a pair of touchdowns in its first eight offensive plays.

Redshirt sophomore Zach Zwinak blasted his way for a career-high 179 yards on 36 carries, and the back who was once buried on the depth chart finished with 1,000 rushing yards in 2012.

Ficken drilled three field goals, including the game-winner that slipped just inside the left goal post.

And the defense adjusted after the Badgers ripped off yardage in chunks while putting together early scoring drives that covered 74 and 53 yards. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof had his tackles and ends line up in wider splits to keep Wisconsin from securing the edges, and it slowed down the Badgers.

Wisconsin managed just 17 yards of offense — Penn State had 146 — in the third quarter when the game turned, and Roof said resiliency had as much to do with the improved defensive play as anything.

“You can't take away a man's heart,” Roof said in reference to the NCAA sanctions that Penn State had to overcome, “and they didn't take away our heart.”

The Badgers came close after quarterback Curt Phillips engineered a late drive that he capped with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Duckworth to send the game into overtime.

Penn State's offense sputtered, but after Ficken's field goal, Hill and his teammates smothered the Badgers.

French couldn't send it into a second overtime, and Beaver Stadium erupted in another celebration for the team that had been immortalized before kickoff.

The victory may not have done much for O'Brien's heart rate, but it seemed fitting the Nittany Lions had to overcome as much adversity as they did to send the seniors out on a winning note.

And it seemed fitting Hill notched two sacks and a career-high 12 tackles — and seemed to play better after he aggravated the knee he sprained earlier this month at Purdue.

The father who braved biting cold to sit in Beaver Stadium has never quit, and there was no way Hill was going to let him down.

Or his teammates and coaches.

“It's just hard to put into words what Jordan Hill has meant to this team,” O'Brien said. “There's nothing bad you can say about him.”

Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com.

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