Penn State

Cardiac Cats roar back to take Big Ten title game … and now what?

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Senior Malik Golden is overcome with joy during the Lions' Big Ten title game celebration. -- AUDREY SNYDER / DKPS

INDIANAPOLIS – Senior safety Malik Golden held his hands over his face while the confetti rained down, overjoyed and soaking in the moment.

In a city where the NCAA handed down unprecedented sanctions 1,595 days ago -- ones that were meant to cripple the program and send Penn State football to the dark ages – the Nittany Lions stood atop a podium right down the road from the NCAA headquarters, soaking in their Big Ten title.

“I’ve been here for five years and they called us everything from losers to just every bad name in the book and now we’re on this pedestal,” Golden, a fifth-year senior said. “My mom told me last night, ‘If you don’t win this game then don’t bother coming home.’ Well, I’m coming back home, momma.”

Penn State’s first conference championship since 2008 and their fourth since joining the Big Ten in 1993 brought with it a range of emotions, notably several players and coaches overcome with joy while looking out into a sea of white at Lucas Oil Stadium where the word ‘surreal’ was heard over and over again.

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“This is awesome man. This is surreal,” linebacker Jason Cabinda said as the confetti swirled on the field around him. “Penn State is back.”

With 24 points in the second half, good enough to erase a 28-7 deficit and add to the growing legacy of quarterback Trace McSorley and these Nittany Lions being a second half team, Penn State stormed back to stun Wisconsin, 38-31. The Lions, ranked No. 7 in the College Football Playoff, will learn their bowl fate Sunday afternoon, one that will either include a trip to the College Football Playoff or an appearance in the Rose Bowl.

“This is straight dreaming,” assistant head coach Terry Smith said while putting on a Big Ten championship hat on the field. “The script is written, baby.”