OMAHA, Neb. -- No, the feeling from this one isn‚??t going to leave the Nittany Lions any time soon.
Losing to Ohio was an emotional letdown. After four missed field goals against Virginia, they could do little more than shrug their shoulders. Ohio State was clearly the better team.
But Penn State left Nebraska on Saturday night feeling worse than after any of those games.
‚??Losing‚??s a terrible feeling,‚?Ě coach Bill O‚??Brien said after the 32-23 loss to the Cornhuskers. ‚??It‚??s miserable. It‚??s absolutely miserable. It‚??s like a part of you dies.‚?Ě
It was more than just the controversial call in the fourth quarter, where Matt Lehman was ruled to have fumbled before crossing the goal line for a touchdown, taking away a go-ahead score.
‚??I don‚??t think the referees are biased at all,‚?Ě center Matt Stankiewitch said. ‚??I don‚??t think it was because we were in Nebraska. We could have been on the moon playing this game. I think the refs would have made the same calls.‚?Ě
For seniors like Stankiewitch, it stung more because it reminded them that their time at Penn State is all but up.
‚??Ah, yeah,‚?Ě he said. ‚??This loss was pretty tough. Especially with a long plane ride back. This is my last away game forever for Penn State. We wanted to go out with a win.‚?Ě
This game was as close as the Lions were going to get to a bowl.
It was a road trip. The atmosphere was charged up more than any away game so far. The 16th-ranked Huskers were a marquee opponent.
If the players closed their eyes at kickoff, they might as well have been in Florida or Texas or California. The temperature was at 76 degrees and the sun was shining. Not exactly Big Ten football before Thanksgiving. All the game needed was a name like the America Needs Farmers Bowl and a goofy logo to polish off the postseason feel.
Unlike a bowl game, the season will continue on. But with the loss, the Lions was all but knocked out of the running for the lone piece of hardware they‚??re still eligible to win as a team under NCAA sanctions.
Penn State would need to win its final two games and have Ohio State lose its final two to claim a share of the Leaders Division title and a corresponding trophy, as the team did last season.
Right now, however, the Lions are trying to prevent their mood from turning too gloomy heading into these last two contests against Indiana and Wisconsin at Beaver Stadium.
O‚??Brien has been trying to rally the student body back in State College. Thanksgiving break spans the entire week of Nov. 18 and many students will head home the previous Friday -- one day before the Indiana game -- and not return until classes resume Nov. 26 -- two days after the Wisconsin finale.
‚??We need the fans of Penn State to stick with us,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said. ‚??This football team stuck with Penn State, and we need the fans of Penn State to stick with us at the Indiana game and the Wisconsin game.
It‚??s a plea O‚??Brien first made public last Thursday on his weekly radio show, telling students that dorms will be open throughout the holiday break, encouraging them to at least return to State College for the weekends to attend the games.
The next game against the Hoosiers kicks off at noon. A time has yet to be announced for the Wisconsin contest. The Badgers beat the Hoosiers on Saturday to wrap up the Leaders Division‚??s berth in the Big Ten title game.
‚??We have a bunch of great kids (who) just felt terrible that we lost this game,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said. ‚??We‚??ve gotta get back to work on Monday.