Garrett Sickels was confused.
After the game-clinching stop made by Penn State’s defense, a play that’ll be remembered by the Nittany Lion faithful forever, his teammates ran to the sidelines, some sprinted 30 yards downfield in celebration.
On 4th-and-1 on Penn State’s 22-yard line with a little more than a minute left in regulation, the Nittany Lions held a touchdown advantage, and Wisconsin needed a first down to continue the game.
But the defensive line pushed Wisconsin’s big boys back, and defensive backs Grant Haley and Marcus Allen shot the gap to hit Badgers running back Corey Clement at the line of scrimmage.
The Nittany Lions stopped them. All they needed to do was to kill the clock, and the Big Ten Championship was theirs.
But after that play, a sequence that guided No. 7 Penn State to its 38-31 triumph over No. 6 Wisconsin on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, Sickels stood there on the field dumbfounded.
He thought it was third down.
“Guys, you’re celebrating, we have to come back on the field. We have another down to play,” the defensive end recalls thinking.
He looked around, saw teammates hugging and the pro-Penn State crowd erupting.
The redshirt junior turned to a referee and asked if there was another defensive down to play.
“He was like, ‘No that was fourth down,’” Sickels said with a smile. “I was like, ‘Oh my goodness.’”
Meanwhile, linebacker Jason Cabinda went nuts — and when given a chance to reflect on the play, he was proud of Penn State’s bounceback defensive effort.
The Nittany Lions were losing 28-14, gashed by Wisconsin’s Corey Clement and manhandled by the Badger offensive line.
But the unit played with a different attitude in the second half, limiting the Badgers to three points and not a lot of breathing room.
The second-half resurgence was finished off on that 4th-and-1 stop.
Wisconsin lined up in a heavy package, and a few Nittany Lions called out that the Badgers were going to run a counter, a play that worked all game.
They identified it correctly, helping Allen and Haley clean up, stopping Clement just short of the first down.
“When that play happened, we knew it wasn’t a first down,” Cabinda said confidently. “We knew. We didn’t need a measurement or anything.”
He proceeded to celebrate the stop that he and the defense will be remembered for forever. Cabinda relished the moment, and who could blame him?
“For a defense, for the game to be on the line and it’s on you, you can’t ask for anything better than that,” the linebacker said. “Time and time again we find ourselves in these situations, and we smile at it. We invite it. We want it. That’s how the best teams are.”
As for Haley and Allen, they’re all about the big play, apparently. The duo also combined on the blocked field goal against Ohio State; Allen swatted Tyler Durbin’s kick, and Haley scooped and scored.
Both the blocked field goal and the fourth down stop have helped put Penn State in the position it is now. The Nittany Lions, if they miss out on the College Football Playoff, should be headed to the Rose Bowl.
Two memorable moments credited to the same pair of players.
“That’s my brother right there,” Allen said of Haley. “We have a great connection.”