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Nov. 22, 2008
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- Cane in hand, Joe Paterno beamed in the locker room after his players were handed roses and the Big Ten trophy.
So, Joe, any plans to go out on top?
Not a chance.
After securing a trip to the Rose Bowl with a decisive 49-18 win Saturday over No. 17 Michigan State, the Hall of Fame coach gave his fans another reason to smile.
"I'm planning on coming back, yeah," Paterno said. "I never planned otherwise. Everyone's making a big deal that I don't have a contract signed. I've never even asked to do that."
The details still need to be hammered out in the next couple weeks with athletic director Tim Curley and school president Graham Spanier, he said. Both men were in the locker room after the game, and standing off to the side as Paterno spoke to the press in the media room.
Paterno and Spanier had said in the spring that the 81-year-old coach Paterno didn't need something in writing to return to a job he's held for a record 43 years.
"I'll sit down some time ... and say, `Hey, what do you think of this, what do you think of that, what are we going to do' and that kind of thing," Paterno said.
"So when I talk to a high school kid, I can be honest with them. Right now, I have no plans to leave. We'll see what happens."
Daryll Clark threw for career-highs of 341 yards and four touchdowns and a stingy Penn State defense held Javon Ringer to a season-low 42 yards.
With Paterno relegated to the press box again because of the sore hip, Penn State (11-1, 7-1) secured a share of the conference title and the school's first trip to Pasadena since 1995.
Rumors have swirled for weeks as to whether Saturday might be JoePa's last game at Beaver Stadium. Paterno has never talked about quitting, and his postgame comments Saturday were his most decisive yet about his future intentions.
It was a memorable day regardless in snowy and cold Happy Valley.
A stiff wind and temperatures in the upper 20s couldn't keep a sellout crowd of more than 109,000 fans from rocking in the stands. Many of them were bundled up in parkas and winter coats, staying warm by waving white pom-poms in the air.
Penn State's seniors celebrated their final home game in style, some holding roses in their mouths after the game as giddy fans snapped pictures from the stands.
"We reached one goal, now we just need to go on the road and win a bowl game," tailback Evan Royster said.
The Nittany Lions claimed a share of the Big Ten title with Ohio State, which beat Michigan earlier Saturday.
But Penn State owns the conference's automatic BCS bid by virtue of its 13-6 win over the Buckeyes earlier this year.
Some players even tried to get defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who's taken the lead role on the sideline with Paterno in the press box, to put a rose in his mouth in the closing seconds.
Bradley tried to stay serious, fighting back a smile, as the players celebrated.
The final home game for Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and 15 other Penn State seniors ended with the school joining Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas, Nebraska and Ohio State as programs with 800 victories.
Butler caught three TDs in his last home game, and, fittingly, Williams and fellow senior captain Anthony Scirrotto played integral roles in helping Penn State build a 28-0 lead late in the first half.
Under pressure, Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer rushed a pass over the middle. Scirrotto stepped in front for an interception at the Spartans 46, returning it 14 yards.
On the next play, Williams made a leaping catch at the 2 on a pass from Clark with Spartans safety Danny Fortener right on the receiver's back. Williams' momentum carried him into the end zone for a score and Penn State's four-touchdown lead.
The Spartans (9-3, 6-2) went to a hurry-up offense late in the first half to finally break through, and Ringer, third in the nation in rushing coming into the game, plunged in from the 1 with 22 seconds left to cut it to 28-7. It was Ringer's 21st touchdown of the season, tying him with Jehuu Caulcrick (2007) for most in school history.
But the game was too far out of reach by then.
A disappointed Ringer credited Penn State's conference-best rush defense and the dominant defensive line.
"It was definitely rough up there," Ringer said. "No matter how good the running back is you cannot do anything without your offensive line, you know, being pretty dominant up front, and today just wasn't the best day."
After struggling in the first half the last three weeks, Penn State's spread HD offense clicked all day, with Clark finishing 16-of-26 passing. Williams had 51 yards receiving on four catches.
Jordan Norwood had a career-high 127 yards on five receptions. All of Butler's receptions were for touchdowns, from four, 59, and a 70-yarder that gave Penn State a 42-7 lead in the third quarter.
The second half was a mere formality before the eager crowd could officially celebrate Penn State's first conference title since 2005, when the Nittany Lions also shared it with the Buckeyes.
Retirement isn't on the agenda for JoePa, but hip replacement surgery likely is. He said it'll likely happen within the next week.
The coach also made it a point to thank Spanier in the locker room for his support--as well as the heated seats on the sideline.
"He hasn't gotten the bill yet," Paterno joked.