UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State's penchant for overtime success ended Saturday in a game that Nittany Lions coaches and fans hoped would send a special senior class out as winners.
Though the Lions still have a chance to end the season with a victory next Saturday at Wisconsin, one final win at Beaver Stadium would have been a memorable way to say goodbye.
Instead Nebraska ended Penn State's streak of five consecutive overtime victories, including two this season, with a 23-20 victory on a bitter cold night.
“It stings because it's Senior Day and the last home game,” PSU defensive tackle DaQuan Jones said. “The locker room is all right. We have our heads up. It's quiet, but we're going to come back and get ready for Wisconsin.”
Penn State was optimistic heading into overtime after posting victories earlier this season over Michigan (43-40 in 4 OTs) and Illinois (24-17).
“We've been pretty successful in overtime this season, so we were confident,” Nittany Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg said. “I had respect for Nebraska, and I have even more now after the game.”
Mistakes on special teams were a primary reason the Nittany Lions fell to 6-5. Penn State had taken its first lead early in the third quarter on a 7-yard touchdown run by Hackenberg.
But for the second consecutive week, Penn State gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown. Nebraska's Kenny Bell returned the ensuing kick 99 yards to help put the Huskers ahead 14-13.
Penn State trailed by one at that point because Sam Ficken's point-after attempt following PSU's first touchdown clanked off the right goal post in the south end zone.
Ficken then missed a field-goal attempt of 37 yards wide right at that same goal post after Penn State's only possession in overtime stalled after three plays.
“The kids played hard,” Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said. “They played with great intensity. That's never the problem at Penn State.
“The defense played a whale of a game, but you win as a team, you lose as a team.”
Both teams ran 77 plays from scrimmage in the final scheduled meeting between the teams until 2017.
Penn State outgained Nebraska 387-360, and the Nittany Lions' defense forced two turnovers and limited the Huskers to a 3-of-17 conversion rate on third downs.
Both Jones and O'Brien said the Penn State defense has made great strides late in the season, especially the past 2Ĺ games. O'Brien said that leadership and drive to get better have come from the senior class that arrived at Penn State when Joe Paterno was still in charge.
“It's a special place in Penn State history,” O'Brien said. “This senior class stuck with this program, stuck with this university during a very tough time. Everybody needs to remember that. They could have left. They chose to stay.”
Hackenberg is a freshman, so he has plenty of games yet to play in Happy Valley. But he seemed as disappointed as any of the seniors because they have been so helpful to him in his first semester of college.
“I think I mention them in almost every single one of these things,” Hackenberg said at the postgame press conference. “They mean a lot to me. A lot of those guys are up front for me: John Urschel, (Adam) Gress, (Ty) Howle.
“They really took me under their wing. I'm a little frustrated I couldn't get it done for them here, but we have one more shot at it.”
Jones said he had jitters before the team even arrived at Beaver Stadium.
“As soon as we got on the bus, the feeling in my stomach, I was nervous,” Jones said. “I had the butterflies all over like it was freshman year.
“I feel like this class, along with last year, showed people Penn State's still here, we compete with the best, and we're going to be around for a while.”
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Video: NU coach Bo Pelini after the Penn State game:
Video: NU kicker Pat Smith after the Penn State game:
Video: NU quarterback Ron Kellogg after the Penn State game:
Video: Postgame analysis with Sam McKewon: