UNIVERSITY PARK -- Bill O'Brien badly wanted the seniors on Penn State's football team to celebrate a victory in their home finale, the same way last year's team did when it beat Wisconsin for the program's signature win during the post-Sandusky scandal era.
Just like last year, the Nittany Lions went into overtime Saturday in their final game at Beaver Stadium. But unlike last year, Penn State lost a hard-fought game against an evenly matched opponent as Nebraska came away with a 23-20 win before 98,517 fans.
"Everybody wanted to get this win, especially for the senior class," PSU senior linebacker Glenn Carson said. "We're truly a family. We all play for each other, we all have each other's backs, and that's just the characteristics of Penn State football and the kind of guys that we have here."
O'Brien has praised the players countless times for two seasons now about how they've handled themselves and continued to compete at a high level despite facing tough odds because of NCAA sanctions. He wanted them to enjoy the reward of walking off their home field for the final time having just completed a victory.
"This senior class stuck with this program and stuck with this university during a very tough, tough time," O'Brien said. "I think everybody needs to remember that. This senior class will go down as just as special a senior class as last year's."
Penn State put up a good fight against a quality Nebraska team that's now 8-3, but numerous mistakes on special teams ultimately doomed the Lions. The Cornhuskers returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, plus PSU kicker Sam Ficken missed a costly extra point in regulation and a field goal in overtime.
Nebraska made its field goal in the extra session to prevail in a game that was close throughout, as most prognosticators expected.
"We felt like we were very evenly matched," Penn State cornerback Jordan Lucas said.
"We battled the whole time," tight end Jesse James said. "It was a great game."
Saturday was Penn State's best chance to clinch a winning season, as a victory would have made the team 7-4 with one game remaining. Now the Lions must face a very good Wisconsin team on the road next week and figure to be heavy underdogs, and a loss would leave them at 6-6.
"There wasn't a lot of talking in the locker room afterwards, but a lot of hugs and a lot of pats on the backs," Carson said after Saturday's defeat. "I think that a lot of people played their hearts out today."