STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – They sat through cold and rain for the better part of three hours Saturday at Beaver Stadium, most of the estimated 50,000 brave souls who drove in on icy roads to salute Penn State's seniors on the occasion of their final home game.
Their wait was rewarded with 9 minutes, 12 seconds remaining, when Trace McSorley exited the game that the 15th-ranked Nittany Lions would win, 38-3, over Maryland. They rose to their feet in a loud ovation as McSorley waved to the crowd before hitting the sideline and hugging coaches and players.
The fifth-year senior went out the way he wanted, rushing for two touchdowns, passing for one, amassing 294 yards of total offense and, most important for him, leading the Lions to a 9-3 finish (6-3 in the Big Ten) with his 31st victory as a starting quarterback in the program.
"It's hard to really say what was going through my mind at that point," McSorley said. "It was just a ton of appreciation for the love that the fans are showing at this point, and just trying to take everything in.
"Honestly, that's all it was, just trying to look at everything and just taking in everything I possibly could. That was the main thing, being appreciative and trying to be humble about everything and take it with a sense of gratitude."
Head coach James Franklin was more than happy to give McSorley the curtain call.
"You could love to be in a situation like that where you can send Trace onto the field and take him off like we did," he said. "He has earned that. Unfortunately, you never know how games are going to play out, but I do not know if you could have written a better script for how this last game would have went for this senior class."
The victory over the Terrapins (5-7, 3-6) kept alive the Nittany Lions' hopes for their third consecutive New Year's Six bowl bid, although Saturday's results and next weekend's conference championship games will shake up the College Football Playoff rankings for many teams.
McSorley said he was as healthy as at any time before he suffered a knee injury four weeks ago. The Lions' opening drive resulted in a touchdown, with McSorley throwing a block on Miles Sanders' 35-yard run before scoring on a 3-yard dash around the left side.
"Right before we ran out of the tunnel, I told the offense, 'I promise you guys I'm going to leave everything out there today,' " he said. "I think that was part of trying to get down there and throw a block. Anything I could do, I was going to try and do. I felt really good today, and I was glad we were able to come in and get a big-time win."
Defensively, Penn State held a Maryland team that had rushed for 339 yards and 353 yards in the previous two games to only 74 yards. The Lions had 15 tackles for loss and five sacks.
Maryland redshirt freshman Anthony McFarland, who gained 298 rushing yards last week against Ohio State, carried six times for 12 yards in the first half and did not play in the second. Interim head coach Matt Canada said trainers told him at halftime that McFarland was out, but did not specify his injury.
McSorley also had a 20-yard run up the middle for a touchdown and added a 5-yard scoring pass to freshman tight end Pat Freiermuth early in the fourth. He completed 12 of 22 passes – 6 of 6 in the second half – for 230 yards, and rushed 11 times for 64 yards.
Sanders posted his fifth 100-yard game of the season, going for 128 yards in 14 carries as the Lions rushed for 310 yards. Freshman backup Ricky Slade scored a pair of touchdowns.
After it was over, McSorley joined his fellow fifth-year seniors – linebacker Koa Farmer, safety Nick Scott, cornerback Amani Oruwariye – on a lap around the field. McSorley then took a knee in the end zone for some quiet meditation and kissed the turf before leaving.
"It was more about appreciation, being able to thank the fans one last time as we went around," he said. "When I took a knee, it was more just being thankful to God for all the opportunities that he's given me."