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Penn State’s 2012 football season for the ages
STATE COLLEGE, PA. (AP) - The white banner fluttered in a stiff breeze before being removed from the east facade of Beaver Stadium to reveal “2012” in bold, blue numerals next to the years marking unbeaten or championship campaigns.
The 2012 season will be remembered in Happy Valley for a long time to come for reasons beyond wins and losses.
“It’s exciting to go down as one of the great teams in Penn State history,” senior quarterback Matt McGloin said after the rousing 24-21 win Saturday over Wisconsin. “To have that season stapled on the stadium forever is a great feeling.”
Coach Bill O'Brien said after Saturday’s win that acting athletic director Dave Joyner had called him earlier in the week about adding 2012 to the facade.
“When they put your 2012 team up there with those teams … that means a lot,” O'Brien said. “I’m not sure there are many bowl games out there that are going to be played like that one. There’s a lot there and just a fantastic senior class.”
The seniors went out in style.
The tense, overtime thriller came down to a stellar defensive effort spearheaded by tackle Jordan Hill, a 37-yard field goal in the extra session by redeemed kicker Sam Ficken, and the 44-yard miss by Wisconsin’s Kyle French that finally brought the season to an end on a chilly, late November night.
And so a campaign that began with the dark cloud of NCAA sanctions hanging over the program because of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal ended with smiles and relief. The Nittany Lions (8-4, 6-2 Big Ten) would have been a lock for a New Year’s Day game had the penalties not included a four-year bowl ban.
Not that it mattered to star linebacker Michael Mauti.
“That’s better than any bowl trip I’ve ever been a part of,” said the senior, who wore his familiar No. 42 jersey over jeans after being sidelined with a left knee injury.
Fiery on the field, Mauti is known as much for a humble persona off it. He doesn’t like the spotlight and deflected media attention off his injury and on to the rest of the team in the week leading up to the game.
All the while, his teammates wore “42” on the side of their white helmets in honor of Mauti, a suggestion made to O'Brien by Hill and fellow team captain Michael Zordich. Penn State’s other outstanding outside linebacker, Gerald Hodges, switched from his No. 6 jersey to 42 in another grand gesture for Mauti in his last game in blue and white.
There’s plenty of time left to wonder about Mauti’s future. After the game, Mauti continued to brush aside questions about the severity of his injury, choosing to reflect on the remarkable end to an unparalleled season.
Back in July, two days after the NCAA levied the penalties, about two dozen teammates surrounded Mauti and Zordich as they made impassioned public statements that they were sticking with Penn State.
Other seniors like McGloin, Hill, Hodges, cornerback Stephon Morris and center Matt Stankiewitch also helped keep the team together through tough times, like the 0-2 start and the 35-23 loss last month to No. 4 Ohio State.
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