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Emotional senior day ends with tough loss

By Philip Cmor

pcmor@altoonamirror.com

UNIVERSITY PARK – Trevor Williams said each year at Penn State seemed to pass more quickly for him than the one before.

But waiting to come out before Saturday afternoon’s game at Michigan was like an eternity.

“I said I wasn’t going to cry, but I started to see some of my teammates get emotional. I had to fight back some tears,” Williams said. “I didn’t end up crying, but I definitely wanted to get that moment over with.”

Williams was one of 19 Nittany Lion football players who were recognized before Penn State played its final home game of the season before a throng of 107, 418 chilly fans, most of them clad appropriately for the rare noon white-out. Because of the atmosphere, the 28-16 loss to the Wolverines stung even more.

“It definitely was an emotional loss,” Williams, the senior starting cornerback, said. “We needed to come out with the victory, so this one hurts.”

Making it even tougher to swallow was that the Lions felt they hadn’t put their best foot forward. They settled for field goals on three forays deep into Michigan territory, fumbled a punt and gave up a big return with the game still within their grasp on special teams and allowed the Wolverines to convert 50 percent of the third downs.

“My heart hurts for these seniors. This is the last time they’re going to play in Beaver Stadium,” Lion coach James Franklin said. “And they’re leaving not on a positive note.”

Departing seniors like defensive lineman Anthony Zettel and guard Angelo Mangiro didn’t come out to share their thoughts with the media after the game. This group included the last Lions recruited by Joe Paterno and his staff.

“The seniors have been through so much adversity. Three coaches. The whole (Jerry Sandusky-related sanctions) situation. They’ve been through a lot, and to go out there and get a win in the last home game would have been pretty nice,” said redshirt junior safety Malik Golden. “It’s never a good feeling to play your heart out and come back with a result that you don’t want.”

Another redshirt junior, tight end Brent Wilkerson, turned in one of the best games of his career with three receptions. He, too, felt for his older teammates.

“It’s tough,” Wilkerson said. “I felt like we battled hard for those guys and gave it all we had. We just came up short.”

Defensive back Jordan Lucas already had played his last home game in a Lion uniform, having had his senior campaign ended by an injury a couple of weeks ago. Golden, though, wore Lucas’ No. 9 to honor his friend.

“Jordan is like a brother to me,” said Golden, his shoulder tightly wrapped as he was banged up in the game. “He was pretty excited about (me wearing his number).”

Williams was part of Bill O’Brien’s first class. He and teammate Da’Quan Davis had been committed to West Virginia but switched to Penn State together when the turmoil from the Paterno firing left the Lions with a number of scholarships to fill just weeks before signing day by Larry Johnson before O’Brien really had gotten settled in.

Davis left the Lions a few months ago.

This week brought everything from his time at Penn State back to mind.

“I was reminiscing about my receiver days, just reminiscing about the previous wideouts,” Williams said.

The white-outs are special games for Penn State, drawing the biggest and most enthusiastic crowds. Williams said he usually doesn’t find himself drawing too much energy from them, but it’s difficult not to let their energy get through.

“There are times when I’m on the sideline that I’ll seed the white-out and hear the ‘We are …’ chants. It’s just a great feeling,” Williams said. “I’m fortunate to be where I’m at. This definitely is one of the best stadiums in the country. We’ve got the best fans. I’m just thankful.

“This is my last home game here, so I’ll remember it forever. But there’s a lot of other great memories I’ve had at this stadium. I’ll definitely remember them also. But I’ve still got one more opportunity.”

The Lions finish Big Ten play next week at Michigan State. Then they’ll be headed to a bowl game. Players like Wilkerson vowed to do what they could to send this senior class out double winners, but that couldn’t change the bittersweet emotions felt Saturday.

“We didn’t win, so that’s disappointing,” Williams said. “That the last result.”

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