WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The Penn State defenders each took a knee and watched in silence upon seeing one of their comrades, one of their best players and leaders, go down with an injury to his left knee in the first half here Saturday.
As senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill writhed in pain, trainers and head coach Bill O'Brien around him and the dreaded green cart poised to wheel him out of Ross-Aid Stadium, the Nittany Lions were dealt yet another blow in a year in which their resiliency has been tested unlike any team in college football history.
And they used the moment to display their impressive resolve in a 34-9 victory over Purdue.
"I was just praying for him and hoping it's not too serious," fellow senior Michael Mauti said. "We said we were going to play the rest of the game for him."
The injury, thankfully, may not be as serious as it first appeared. Hill said it occurred "when I went in to make a tackle, and all the flow was coming to me, and when I went to plant and stop, everybody came to me."
But he said preliminary tests showed "no major ligament" damage, adding he may be able to play as soon as Saturday at Nebraska.
"We'll need a couple days on that," Bill O'Brien said.
Hill was hurt with 11:42 left in the second quarter, the Lions leading 10-3 and Purdue at the Penn State 40. Penn State's defense responded by immediately forcing an incompletion and a punt.
The injury became the latest rallying cry.
"I heard the leaders over there, [Gerald] Hodges and Mauti, grab the defense and were barking," O'Brien said. "Jordan's a hell of a player, and when a guy like that goes down, it's a heart-and-soul kind of guy."
With all the Lions have been through, it's not surprising they were equal to this moment. Purdue's ineptitude helped, but the better team dictated the tempo all day.
"We had to rally the guys," Hodges said. "We let everybody know we've got to keep playing. He [Hill] is a leader and a big-time playmaker. We had to play up to the level he plays up to."
Hill returned to the bench in sweats for the second half and exhorted his teammates to their third straight lopsided Big Ten road win.
"Shows you what kind of a kid he Is," O'Brien said.
Like Hodges and Mauti, Hill has a good chance to play on Sundays, which added to his teammates' concern.
"He's a great, great player," safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong said. "We knew we had to play for him. He told us to keep balling and playing as hard as we could."
Hill, who was replaced by James Terry, is "hopeful" he'll be OK to play Saturday at Nebraska in what will be the Lions' stiffest road trip of the season.
He was walking with a slight limp after the game, and he'd have to be considered questionable for the Huskers. After that, home games remain against Indiana and Wisconsin with a 9-3 record - incredible given the NCAA sanctions and all the fallout since Jerry Sandusky's arrest a year ago - still a possibility.
"It sucks," senior cornerback Stephon Morris said. "I hope he [Hill] can bounce back fast, especially with these three games. If he could make it back by Senior Day [Nov. 24 vs. Wisconsin], I know it would mean a lot to him."
And to the entire Penn State camp.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or email@example.com.