"Tonight was a fairy-tale ending," senior defensive end Pete Massaro said. "I couldn't ask for anything more, the way we won that game, getting down early, coming back, just fighting every step of the way. It's kind of symbolic of how our season went really."
The Nittany Lions, who lost their first two games but still finished 8-4, suffered through NCAA sanctions in July that cost them a chance to play for the Big Ten championship or in a bowl, and led to the transfer of 10 players, including some important ones.
But the seniors stayed strong and kept the team together. One of the strongest, linebacker Michael Mauti, sat out Saturday's game with a left knee injury but the players honored him by having his No. 42 on the left side of their helmets. Linebacker Gerald Hodges changed to jersey No. 42, instead of his usual No. 6.
"You can't say enough about these kids," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said. "I've been around some special teams and this is a very special football team because of the players and especially the seniors."
Penn State never led until Matt McGloin's 41-yard touchdown pass to freshman tight end Jesse James early in the fourth quarter and hung in until Wisconsin's Curt Phillips fired a 4-yard pass to Jeff Duckworth to tie the game with 18 seconds remaining.
Neither team made a first down in overtime. The Lions got the ball first, gained six yards and then had Ficken come on for his third field goal of the game, and 10th in a row overall. The Badgers lost yardage thanks to a sack of Phillips by defensive end Sean Stanley, and Kyle French's 45-yard field goal attempt drifted wide left.
Cornerback Stephon Morris flew off the Nittany Lions' sideline as if fired from a cannon.
"I thought [the kick] was in, but then it went left," Morris said. "When the referee went like this [no-good signal], I started running toward the student section. I was just so hyped up with emotion."
Three sophomores enjoyed a good day. Zach Zwinak, who scored the Lions' first touchdown, rushed for 179 yards in 36 carries to finish the season at 1,000 yards on the nose. Allen Robinson had four catches for 35 yards, giving him 1,013 receiving yards.
Then you had Ficken, the subject of widespread criticism after four missed field-goal attempts against Virginia in the year's second game. He improved steadily and went 12 of 13 in his last seven games, including Saturday's 3-for-3 that helped the seniors go out smiling.
"They've done so much for us," Ficken said. "They're great leaders, all of them really. It feels good to send them off on a real high note. We'll remember this game forever."
McGloin struggled at times with the wind but kept battling. When it was over, it turned out just the way he imagined it.
"That's what we wanted," he said. "That was part of our motivation this week, the feeling after the game and the feeling in that locker room. We kept that in the back of our minds and to celebrate like that after a win over a great Wisconsin team, there's no better feeling."
Contact Joe Juliano at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @joejulesinq