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11/30/2013 11:27 PM EST
Penn State hangs on, upsets No. 14 Wisconsin 31-24
PENN ST 31, WISCONSIN 24
By GENARO C. ARMAS
AP Sports Writer
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- A bright future for Penn State emerged on a
cool, crisp day in the Midwest.
Strong-armed freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg figures
to only improve for the Nittany Lions.
Hackenberg played with the poise and touch of a seasoned
veteran, throwing for 339 yards and four touchdowns, and Penn
State pounced on a slew of Badgers blunders before holding off a
late rally to upset No. 14 Wisconsin 31-24 on Saturday.
"He really stepped up in a big way, and words can't describe how
thankful I am to that guy," said offensive lineman and senior
leader John Urschel.
An up-and-down season - from the 20-point loss at Indiana to the
overtime win over Michigan - ended on a high note in the most
unlikely of places, at Camp Randall Stadium on Senior Day
against a Wisconsin team on the cusp of eligibility for an
at-large berth in a Bowl Championship Series game.
Say goodbye to the BCS, Badgers.
"That's not going to happen and so we'll move forward. Such is
life," coach Gary Andersen said. "The way we played today and
the way I coached them, obviously, we don't deserve to have that
opportunity. It's gone now."
Two more freshmen had big days for Penn State (7-5, 4-4 Big
Ten). Eugene Lewis finished with 91 yards and two touchdowns on
three catches, including a 59-yarder with 13 minutes to go to
give the Nittany Lions a 31-14 lead. Adam Breneman had 78 yards
on three receptions, including a 68-yard catch-and-run for a
touchdown that set the tone for the day on the game's opening
The Nittany Lions secured a statement win against a team that
had been dominant all year at home. They were listed as 24-point
underdogs among odds-makers, and prognosticators consistently
predicted a Badgers blowout.
Coach Bill O'Brien made sure his players knew about their
underdog status all week. A sizable chip was planted on the
Nittany Lions' collective shoulders.
"I'm not allowed to talk about that even though it seems like a
lot of you guys thought it was the right line," O'Brien told
reporters after the game. "You're wrong."
Joel Stave was 29 of 53 for 339 yards and three touchdowns for
Wisconsin (9-3, 6-2), though Penn State capitalized on three
second-half interceptions, turning one into Lewis' long TD.
The Badgers scored 10 points in a span of 1:25 of the fourth
quarter, capped by a 48-yard field goal by Jack Russell with
4:13 left to get within a score. Sam Ficken's 31-yard field-goal
try went wide right with 31 seconds left to give the Badgers one
But a Hail Mary attempt by Stave was intercepted by Ryan Keiser
in the end zone with 1 second left.
"Both elation and relief," linebacker Mike Hull said in
describing the moment. "We made it closer than we had to, but we
got the win and that's all that matters."
Penn State clinched a winning season and did it on the road,
where they had struggled all year in Big Ten play. That's quite
an accomplishment for a program that's typically dressed about
60 recruited scholarship players as a result of NCAA sanctions
resulting from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
O'Brien's team can't go to a bowl game because of the sanctions.
But Penn State will nevertheless ride into the offseason on a
high note for a second straight year after a win over the
Badgers. Penn State beat Wisconsin 24-21 in an overtime thriller
to end the 2012 season.
The Badgers only have themselves to blame. They were
uncharacteristically prone to mental errors and mistakes.
"I can't sit back and say we had a bad week of practice, can't
sit back and say I didn't feel like we were prepared," Andersen
said. "I'm going to say it again, I give a lot of credit to Penn
A high pass from Stave off the fingertips of Jared Abbrederis
was picked off by Trevor Williams, who returned it 33 yards to
the Penn State 38. Three plays later, Hackenberg let go a deep
pass after absorbing a hit from Brendan Kelly that landed in the
arms of a streaking Lewis over double coverage for a touchdown
and 31-14 lead in the fourth.
A Wisconsin defense that hadn't allowed a play longer than 51
yards entering Saturday allowed an astounding four for at least
52 against Penn State.
Hackenberg was 13 of 16 for 221 yards and two touchdowns alone
in the first half, the second coming to a wide-open Lewis from 3
Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP
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