GLENDALE, Ariz. – After the game was over, and after Penn State collected the Fiesta Bowl trophy as its reward for a 35-28 victory over Washington, Saquon Barkley circled the perimeter of University of Phoenix Stadium and high-fived Nittany Lions fans leaning over the rail.
It looked like a curtain call, the end of a performance from not only Saturday, when Barkley rushed for 137 yards and scored two touchdowns, including a 92-yard run, but the conclusion of three outstanding seasons as arguably the greatest running back in Penn State history.
The questions: Was it the last curtain call for Barkley in the Blue and White? Will he make himself available for the NFL draft by the Jan. 15 deadline?
"The things going through my mind right now … I'm excited," he said. "I'm happy that we were able to send the seniors off on a good note. With that [NFL] decision, I'm not really focused on that. I'm just living in the moment and enjoying it and cherishing this moment with the seniors. Those guys are so special."
Before a crowd of 61,842, the Nittany Lions (11-2) reached 11 wins for the second straight year, the first back-to-back 11-win seasons since 2008-09, and improved their record in the Fiesta Bowl to an impressive 7-0. The Huskies finished 10-3.
The Lions made things a bit difficult on themselves. They committed three turnovers, including a lost second-quarter fumble that led to a Washington touchdown. When he had a chance to make it a three-score game in the fourth quarter, Trace McSorley threw a pass from the Huskies 18 that was tipped and intercepted, his second of the game.
Still, McSorley won offensive player of the game honors after completing 32 of 41 passes for 342 yards and touchdown throws of 48 and 24 yards to DaeSean Hamilton. In addition, McSorley was 12 of 12 on third down for 193 yards and 10 first downs, including both TDs.
Penn State converted 13 of 17 third-down plays.
"With Trace, I can't imagine there's a better quarterback in the country, in terms of decision-making and leadership and toughness," head coach James Franklin said. "He's very accurate."
Penn State outgained Washington, 545-331, and rushed for 203 yards against a defense ranked No. 1 in the country, allowing 92.3 yards per game.
The game's highlight moment came in the second quarter. On second down from the Lions 8, Barkley took a handoff to the left, bounced it outside and dashed down the left sideline untouched. It was the longest run in both Fiesta Bowl and Penn State history, and tied Barkley with Blair Thomas and Bill Belton for the program's longest rush.
Barkley windmilled his arms in celebration, a gesture that the Huskies mimicked later on two of their touchdowns.
"I started showboating a little bit, and I've got to be better in that situation," he said before explaining why the TD made him especially happy.
"All week, we heard about how good this rush defense is, and we heard about it with Michigan," he said. "We got 92 yards on one play. That's why I was happy. I was tired of hearing all the talk."
Barkley's run gave Penn State a 28-7 lead. The Huskies got the deficit down to seven on a 13-yard run by Myles Gaskin late in the first half and a 28-yard pass from Jake Browning to Aaron Fuller on Washington's first possession of the third quarter.
The Lions answered the Fuller touchdown with a 24-yard pass from McSorley to Hamilton. Gaskin later made it interesting when he took a handoff up the middle on third-and-1 and raced 69 yards for a touchdown run that brought the Huskies to within seven with 6 minutes, 52 seconds remaining.
Penn State then held the ball for 6:13, converting three third-down plays. The drive stalled at the 23 and, after a false-start penalty, Franklin decided on a field goal but Tyler Davis' 45-yard try went wide right with 34 seconds left.
The Huskies had one last gasp. On fourth down, Dante Pettis tried to lateral, but linebacker Brandon Smith picked off the ball at his 48, and the Lions ran out the clock.
"To be able to have a game like this, to be able to send the seniors off on the right note and to have an impact in the game, that's the biggest thing," Barkley said.
Did it send Barkley off as well?