Football NCAA

B1G Win! B1G Champions!

After the Ohio State win, I considered the season a success.  Not that I was thinking it would be the upstart teams last win, but if were, so be it. They just knocked off the #2 team in the country. I’ll admit it. My expectations for this season were low. At that point, they were 5-2 and on a 3-game win streak. One more win in their last five and they’d be going to a Bowl Game. Three more wins and they would exceed most people’s expectations for the year.Little did we know what was in store for the rest of the season.The Ohio State game gave this team a humble swagger – a confidence that they could compete with anyone without being arrogant about it. You could see it in the locker room and on the field. They knew they belonged all along – even while others doubted them.With the loss to Michigan early in the season, they needed a little help, but they got it. The Wolverines lost to Iowa and it set up a huge final week for the Big Ten East division.  Michigan was still in control. Win and they’re in – while Ohio State and Penn State needed help from each other.And we got it! The Buckeyes took care of Michigan and we soundly defeated Michigan State to set up the B1G Football Championship Game of Penn State vs Wisconsin!img_3666The problem is, it’s the next Saturday – not leaving much time for planning and travel. My daughter committed immediately to take a bus from State College on a “turn around” trip. Leave the school at 6am Saturday and leave immediately following the game. She was soon joined by 15 bus loads of eager students.I struggled with the decision to travel for a couple of days, but I was able to finally book a flight on Wednesday. My plan had me getting in Saturday at 3:30pm after a connection through Dallas and returning the next morning at 8:00am on nonstop back to Phoenix. Not a lot of time on the ground, but enough to hopefully see this team shock the college football world – at least those outside of the Lions locker room.On the flight from Dallas, I noticed former Penn Stater and current Dallas Cowboy, Jack Crawford boarding the plane. Lucky for him, his Cowboys had a Thursday night game this week. Another celebrity sighting while in Dallas was that of current Ohio State Defensive Coordinator, Greg Schiano. Schiano was also a Penn State assistant in the 90s.On the flight from Dallas, I was seated next to John – a Penn Stater from Lititz, PA who happens to have a place in Arizona as well. He’s a die-hard Penn Stater and travels to many games. We shared all kinds of stories as we geared up for the big game.

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Yes, that is a golf course inside of a race track!

I met up with my daughter and a couple of her friends at the Convention Center where they held a Fan Fest and Pep Rally for each team. Honestly, this place was pretty crowded with Nittany Lion fans, but it was a bit of let down. They have areas for kids games, a couple of exhibit areas for the schools of the conference and a couple of places for photo ops – like the the creative Allstate Mayhem Photobomb Photo Booth or a chance to get your picture taken with the B1G Championship Trophy.img_3729

And at one point, the Penn State Blue Band performed in the recreated stadium.img_3675The price of admission into the Fan Fest is included in the game ticket, but at $8 for non-ticket-holders, it’s extremely overpriced.Just outside the Convention Center sits the blocked off Georgia St tailgate area. It’s a small one-block party area with beer tents, food and a band. Not bad, but with temps in the high 30s as the sun set, you couldn’t last too long outdoors.One thing you notice about this game is that there are fans from virtually every school in the Big Ten represented. Of course, there were more Ohio State and Michigan fans compared to others.  Too bad for them!  I’m guessing they purchased tickets thinking their team would be playing. Regardless, this game would prove to be fun for all.At least the refs from the Michigan/Ohio State game made an appearance to apologize.img_3677On our way over to the stadium, we ran into the “Big Uglies” – a Penn State tradition. These guys have been at it since the 90s – when they were much younger. We heard them talking to the police earlier because a lady supposedly tackled one of them and he landed on his reconstructed hip. Fortunately, they were still able to pose for this photo.img_3680Lucas Oil Stadium is definitely one of the nicer stadiums I’ve been able to visit, but this wasn’t my first time here. I also attended the very first B1G Championship game in 2011. That year, Kirk Cousins, Le’Veon Bell and Michigan State took on Russell Wilson, Montee Ball and Wisconsin. The Badgers won a tight game 42-39 with Wilson working his magic. That game also ranks up there as one of the best I’ve seen.img_3663There were plenty of reminders of the first sport of Indianapolis, IndyCar racing and the legendary Indianapolis 500. They also had a very cool display of all Indiana high school football team’s helmets. And like many newer stadiums, they have an open-end concourse that provides a great end-zone view of the field.img_3684They even went the extra mile and made the teams and their fans feel at home with some custom touches like painted walls.The festivities started with an awesome rendition of the National Anthem, performed by a combinations of both team bands.img_3710But once the game started, the Lions didn’t know what hit them. They were down 28-7 near the end of the 2nd quarter. Thankfully, a late 90-yard TD drive, starting at their own 10 with just over two minutes to play, brought the Lions to within two scores before the half. The drive took less than ninety seconds and was very reminiscent of of the Ohio State drive before the half.Everyone knows Penn State has been a second half team this year. It must be the orange slices Franklin feeds them in the locker room. But can they do it again?  Especially with Wisconsin receiving the kick coming out of the half.As the Badgers drove down the field with the opening drive, it wasn’t looking promising – but the defense held them to a FG attempt.  I turned to the guy next to me and said that their kicker hasn’t been very good this year – he’s missed some FGs and some extra points. Sure enough, wide right! Finally, a wide right that didn’t sent chills down my spine – OK, maybe just a little.The next play for Penn State? Just a 70-yard bomb to Saeed Blacknall to draw the Lions to within a TD!After a short drive, the Lions D held again and the confidence was growing. Penn State converted an 8-play 63 yard drive into the tying score, highlighted by a Mike Gesicki catch along the sidelines that took the officials to review – only to find out he had both feet in bounds. Tie game! 28-28 with over four minutes to go in the 3rd quarter.Wisconsin settled in and answered with 9-play, 70-yard drive that stalled at the Penn State 5, but they converted the FG to go up 31-28 at the end of the 3rd.Penn State, not to be deterred, punched back with another quick 4-play, 81-yard, 1:35 drive with Daesean Hamilton pulling down two catches for over 63-yards. The drive was capped by a beautiful pass from McSorely to Saquon Barkley on a perfectly executed wheel route. 35-28 Penn State with almost fourteen minutes to go in the game.At this point, the Penn State offense had five touchdown drives in the game and had averaged just over 90 seconds per drive! Talk about a quick scoring offense!When they got the ball back after the next drive, it was time to slow things down and burn some clock. The Lions methodically moved the ball 58-yards down to the Badger 6 in 4:38 before converting the FG to put them up a full TD with just over five minutes to play.img_3713 The Penn State Defense, after being shredded for 164-yards on the ground in the first half, tightened up in the second half, but they needed one more stop to close out the game. The Badgers moved the ball to the Penn State 24 with a minute to play. On 4th and 1, the defense rose up again. The same heroes that blocked the Ohio State kick and returned it for a TD, struck again! Grant Hailey and Marcus Allen combined to stuff Corey Clement and effectively end the game. 38-31 Penn State – Big Ten Champions!During the trophy presentation, B1G Commissioner, Jim Delany was introduced to the crowd. I think he received the loudest chorus of boos the entire game. This man, who went on ESPN earlier in the day, essentially said that the B1G Champion doesn’t need to be included in the playoff. He continued to praise Ohio State and undermine the eventual winner of the toughest conference in college football today. Idiot.I grabbed a shuttle that would take me back to my airport hotel. Fortunately for me and the 12 other passengers, I was in the front seat and paying attention to where we were headed. When she turned left, instead of right, I felt we were going in the wrong direction – away from the airport. When I challenged her, she snapped back, asking if I was checking up on her. Then she pulled out her phone, entered the airport into Google Maps and was promptly told, “In a quarter mile, make a U-turn.” I couldn’t believe it’s 1:00am and she’s headed in the wrong direction. Who knows where we would have ended up.Back at the hotel, I was still so excited for the win and wanted a celebratory beer. Thankfully, while the bar was closed, they could still sell beer – until 3:30am! A couple of Badger fans were standing nearby and joined me. We shared stories and hung out until they shut us down – and then some. Mike and Gary made the 7-hour drive from Eau Claire Wisconsin and I felt bad for them having to make the return drive with a loss under their belt, but they represented Wisconsin well and were a class act as we dissected the game, the year and football in general.We even ran into a huge 15-year old left tackle from my home town area back in PA. His family are huge supporters of Penn State and he’s doing all he can to get recognized and recruited by the Lions. He’ll be transferring to Scranton Prep next year to get more visibility. Games like this certainly leave an impression on kids. And from talking with him, he seems like he’d be a great addition to the Lions. I’ll have to keep an eye out for him in a couple of years.It was the best 2 hours sleep I’ve ever had before waking up and shuttling back to the airport to catch my early morning flight.As I sit here today, making arrangement for the Rose Bowl, it’s still hard to believe. Penn State has made such a resounding comeback from the sanctions and earned the outright B1G Trophy for just the second time since joining the conference.What a year!#WisconsinBeat #BeatUSCimg_3721

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