Walt Moody | Penn State football: Seniors’ home finish as bitter as the weather

November 24, 2013 

Walt Moody

— Maybe it was because he had just played in raw conditions, which featured several snow squalls.

Maybe it had to do with the emotion of the moment.

But, Penn State senior Eric Shrive entered the media room at Beaver Stadium looking a little red around the face and the eyes.

You could understand if it was the latter.

Shrive and 16 other Nittany Lions had just played their final game at Beaver Stadium, one that lasted more than four quarters. They had to stare up at a scoreboard that read Nebraska 23, Penn State 20.

“This sucks. This sucks,” Shrive said. “We lost on our last game in Beaver Stadium. Us seniors, we’re never going to run out on that field again.”

And that stung sharper than the swirling air that got colder as the grey afternoon grew longer and darker.

No more chances to play on the hallowed ground where Shrive had once hoisted Joe Paterno on his shoulders following JoePa’s 400th career victory. No more chances to play in Coach Bill O’Brien’s offense at home.

For this group of seniors, it was one more tough memory in careers that had feature many highs and lows — both throughout their careers and this season.

They went through the firing of Paterno in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, and just a few months later attended the funeral of the man they came to Penn State to play for.

They welcomed a new coach, saw their program face some of the stiffest NCAA sanctions and knew they couldn’t go to a bowl game these last two seasons no matter how well they played.

They also experienced the euphoria of winning three overtime games on the same Beaver Stadium turf before getting bit by the Cornhuskers in an extra period on Saturday.

“We had two different coaching staffs and a lot of adversity,” Shrive said. “It’s well documented. We learned a lot while we were here. This isn’t the only adversity we are going to face in our lives. Moving forward, our experiences here at Penn State are going to prepare us for the future.”

This season certainly has gone tougher on the field than any they’ve experienced.

The losses have been all over the road.

One week, it was poor defense (Indiana). Another, it was poor offense (Minnesota).

On this Saturday, it was special teams.

Against the Cornhuskers, Penn State’s special teams allowed a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, missed an extra point that allowed the contest to go to overtime, missed a field goal in overtime, had a punt blocked and had two fumbles (that the Nittany Lions fortunately recovered).

“It’s been a rollercoaster this year,” said senior linebacker Glenn Carson, who led the Nittany Lions with 10 tackles in his final home game. “We’ve fought through it. We’ve taken our hits and always come back from it.”

And so they did Saturday.

Even with all of those miscues and a turnover on offense, they still had the opportunity to win the contest.

Penn State had the ball in Nebraska territory after the Cornhuskers tied the game with 4:29 left in the fourth quarter, but had to punt. A pass interference penalty prevented the Nittany Lions from getting the ball back with good field position.

In overtime, freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg may have missed an opportunity to run for a first down, instead trying to thread the needle to Allen Robinson, something he’s done often.

Kicker Sam Ficken, who clanked an extra point off the right upright after Penn State’s first touchdown, was wide right from 37 yards out in overtime.

Three plays later, Nebraska’s Pat Smith, who had missed just one field goal attempt all season, was true from 42 yards out.

“It would have been great if we could have won that one,” said Shrive. “We played well. We didn’t make enough plays to win the game. That’s what it comes down to.

“The defense played their (butts) off. They played a great game. On offense, we didn’t make enough plays. Up front and all over, you can pick out any position. We didn’t make enough plays and that’s what it comes down to. “

Shrive said he hopes that the loss provides a learning experience for the teammates he leaves behind.

“In the future, hopefully these young guys can take a lesson from that,” he said. “To win these big games in the Big Ten, you’ve got to make big plays.”

To hear the players recall the scene in the locker room after the bitter defeat, it sounded like they also set an example on how to deal with disappointment.

“It’s what you’d expect,” said offensive lineman Garry Gilliam, who also played his final home game. “No one crying in the corner and punching themselves. Some people were upset, but we have another game.”

Hackenberg, who went 16 of 33 and threw two touchdown passes, said he wished the Nittany Lions had got it done for the seniors. The loss was just Penn State’s fourth in its last 24 Senior Days.

“They mean a lot to me,” Hackenberg said of the seniors. “A lot of those guys are up front — John Urschel, (Adam) Gress, (Ty) Howle — they mean a lot to me. They really took me under their wing. We’re frustrated we really couldn’t get it done for them.”

To a man, the seniors were steadfast that one game or a 6-5 season with a game at Wisconsin to go wasn’t going to define their careers.

“To be able to go through the hard times that we’ve gone through as a team builds your bonds stronger,” Gilliam said. “… All of it strengthens our bonds.”

“These guys, we stuck together,” added Shrive, who has received national acclaim as president of Penn State’s remarkable fund-raising chapter of uplifting athletes. “I’m really fortunate to have come here and met these guys.

“This is a great school. I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to come here and get a free education. I got to play with a lot of great guys and meet a lot of people. It’s going to set me up for success when I leave here.”

And that’s why a tough loss on a frigid, emotional day couldn’t totally dampen the spirits of 17 guys in Blue and White.

It’s all about perspective.

“It doesn’t get any better than this — Penn State-Nebraska in the snow,” Carson said. “It was just a great experience. Unfortunately, it didn’t come out for us.

“It’s unfortunate, but that’s the game of football. You’ve got to roll with the punches and we’ve done that all year. On an up note, we have another game against another tough team and it would be great to get that win.”

Walt Moody is sports editor of the Centre Daily Times. He can be reached at 231-4630 or wmoody@centredaily.com. Follow him on Twitter @wmoodycdt.

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