VIDEO: Inside the Winning Locker Room | VIDEO: Postgame Player Interviews
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Ignore the noise.
That's a line head coach Bill O'Brien repeatedly tells the Nittany Lions. Regardless of what is going in the outside world, the only thing that directly influences the team is the belief and attitude of the players in the locker room.
No one gave the Nittany Lions a chance heading into Saturday's season finale at heavily favored and 15th-ranked Wisconsin. The team took it personally.
And for two years, the story has been the same. The resilient fiber engrained in this group of Nittany Lions is unique. No matter how big the obstacle, the team is never fazed.
With the deck stacked against them, the Nittany Lions turned in their most complete performance of the season in a thrilling end to 2013.
You could sense on the opening drive that the Lions were not going to be denied before a raucous crowd in Camp Randall Stadium. Zach Zwinak carried the ball twice to open the game. Zwinak's four yards set up a third-and-six.
Christian Hackenberg found Allen Robinson for a seven-yard completion and a first down. One play later, Hackenberg tossed a strike to an open Adam Breneman, who raced 68 yards for a touchdown.
"It was a little bootleg with Hack. Hack and Zwinak did a great job selling the fake," Breneman said. "I was open and someone forgot to cover me, and I was able to take it in for the touchdown."
Wisconsin answered with back-to-back touchdowns in the second quarter, putting the Badger on top, 14-7. The Nittany Lions came right back with a 71-yard drive, which was capped by a heads-up play from Hackenberg on a throw to a wide-open, uncovered Eugene Lewis.
With the score tied at 14-14, the Nittany Lion defense forced a crucial three-and-out to open the second half. Ten plays later, Hackenberg threaded a ball to Jesse James in the back corner of the end zone to hand Penn State a 21-14 lead.
The Nittany Lions never looked back en route to a 31-24 victory.
As the clocked ticked to zero, all 62 players on the travel roster raced to the corner of the Camp Randall Stadium where the contingent of traveling Nittany Lion fans were sitting. From there, the celebration was on in the locker room.
"You can't say enough about the resiliency of this football team," O'Brien said. "They were down. They came back. We always haven't won these games, and I was proud to win this game for this group of guys."
The senior class earned the victory it deserved in Madison on Saturday.
"You want to leave here as a winner, and you can't say enough about this senior class," said O'Brien. "To have a winning record with all of the things that have happened in the last two years means a lot, and these seniors have a lot to do with that."
The seniors had a choice. By no means did they have to stay at Penn State. The group stuck together because of the bond between each individual in the locker room. The seniors have had ups and downs in their time at Penn State, but Saturday evening's victory sends the group out in a manner it deserves.
"We just played our hearts out today," linebacker and captain Glenn Carson said. "We made some really big plays. We forced some turnovers. We just had fun and flew around out there. I couldn't ask for more from these guys."
"It was so much fun. It was a great way to go out as a senior," center and captain Ty Howle said. "It was a great way for these young guys to carry this into the offseason. It was a great win, a great team win, and I couldn't be happier."
The collective effort from the senior class in leading the team throughout the season cannot be heralded enough. Like the 2012 seniors, this group will have a special place in Penn State Football history.
Additionally, Saturday's road win was a living, breathing example of what is in store for the future of the program.
The young players on the roster made big play after big play in Saturday's victory, which was Penn State's first on-field triumph over a top-15 team since knocking off No. 13 LSU in the 2010 Capital One Bowl.
Hackenberg played the best game of his young career, finishing his true freshman campaign 21-of-30 for 339 yards and four touchdowns. All four of his touchdown passes were to players in their first or second year of eligibility, including two to redshirt freshman Eugene Lewis and one to fellow rookie Breneman.
"A lot of young guys stepped up and made plays today, Hackenberg said. "You look at Jesse (James) (Adam) Breneman, Geno (Lewis) on offense. And then Mike Hull, Brandon Bell, (Anthony) Zettel, C.J. (Olaniyan) on defense. They all made a ton of plays. We are looking forward to the future."
All 21 of Hackenberg's completions were to players with junior eligibility or younger.
"It was the best feeling going out there and getting this win. That's just the way we wanted to end the season," Lewis said.
Junior Zach Zwinak's 115-yard outing marked the most rushing yards by a Wisconsin opponent all season long. Zwinak finished the season with four-straight 100-yard outings and just 11 yards shy of 1,000 yards for the season.
The story was the same on defense. Linebackers Mike Hull and Brandon Bell led the team in tackling on Saturday. Bell made his first career start in the final game of his true freshman season. Bell's pressure on Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave mid-way through the third quarter led to C.J. Olaniyan's interception.
Penn State forced three turnovers and held the Badgers to just 24 points, which equaled Wisconsin's lowest total of the season.
Junior Ryan Keiser, sophomores Jordan Lucas, Trevor Williams and Da'Quan Davis, along with redshirt freshman Malik Golden all played significant roles in Madison.
"Going into the offseason, this win does a lot for us (young guys)," Lucas said.
Collectively, Penn State's young players not only played, they made big plays in clutch moments to help lead the Lions to a victory.
"Any time young players, while playing in an environment like that against a very good Wisconsin team, make plays, that bodes well for the future of Penn State Football."
The senior class will leave Penn State as winners.
"It was an awesome moment we are going to remember for the rest of our lives," Carson said.
The young talent will head into the offseason with confidence.
"It's always great to go into the offseason on a winning note, especially beating a team like Wisconsin when we were 24-point underdogs. To beat Wisconsin, it's a pretty big win for our program," Breneman said.
Thanks to hard work, execution and physical football, the 2013 Nittany Lions saved their best game for last, and they walked off the field in Madison with the trademark victory they deserved.
Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony
Nittany Lions Save Best for Last in Big Win at Wisconsin
VIDEO: Inside the Winning Locker Room | VIDEO: Postgame Player Interviews
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