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For Penn State, a perfect ending

Nittany Lions celebrate first Big Ten title since 1994

November 21, 2005
Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson meets fans near the end zone after Saturday's game at Spartan Stadium. Penn State clinched a Bowl Championship Series bid with their 31-22 victory over MSU.

After the final seconds ticked away in Saturday's contest at Spartan Stadium, Penn State's players summed up years of commitment and determination by euphorically running over to the numerous fans that traveled to watch them clinch a Big Ten Championship and BCS bowl bid.

"Guys were just celebrating, carrying the Big Ten Championship thing around," Nittany Lions quarterback Michael Robinson said. "Guys were excited and they should have been."

While the Spartans season ended following their 31-22 loss, the party had just begun for the Nittany Lions as fans wearing blue and white echoed chants of "BCS" and "Joe Paterno" through the East Lansing nighttime air.

The title marks Penn State's first Big Ten Championship since 1994.

"I've been around a lot of good football teams and I've been in a lot of locker rooms where we've felt pretty good about what we had done," Penn State head coach Joe Paterno said in his post-game press conference while fans stood outside still voicing chants of "We love Joe Pa!"

"They're the guys who should be happy."

After combining for only seven wins the past two seasons, the Nittany Lions came into the 2005 season as massive underdogs nationally and divisionally.

"I'm so happy right now," Robinson said. "We were picked to go sixth in the Big Ten. At the Big Ten (media) conference, people laughed at coach Paterno when he got up to talk. All they were talking about was Michigan and Ohio State. Nobody wanted to ask us questions."

Now, with a 10-win season and a lock for the Big Ten's BCS bid, Penn State proved all critics wrong and were only one second away from boasting an undefeated record.

"The kids are the ones that are all fired up and they should be," Paterno said. "They went through all that junk — the losing years, everyone doubting them and they got together and went to work."

With the BCS berth, the Nittany Lions will likely play in the Fiesta, Orange or Sugar bowls. Penn State also still has slim hopes to even play for the national championship at the Rose Bowl.

"I try to stay away from hoping or wishing or anything, but we just need a little help," Robinson said. "Hopefully with some help, this can really be the dream season."

Equally satisfying for the Nittany Lions was giving 78-year old Paterno a win and conference title in what could have been his final Big Ten game as a head coach.

Paterno has been Penn State's head coach for the past 40 years and has won at least 10 games in a season 19 different times.

"All we wanted to do was win for him," Penn State defensive tackle Tamba Hali said while donning a Big Ten championship hat. "He never gave up on us, and we never gave up on him.

"He told us that we were a good team over and over, he said 'You're a great team, you just got to go out there and get the respect' and we came out here to do it."

Despite the celebration that occurred on the Penn State sidelines following the game, the traditional dumping of the Gatorade cooler was never poured over the head coach. Paterno said there was a reason for that absence.

"This isn't over yet," he said. "We've got another game to play."

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