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Dec. 29, 2007
SAN ANTONIO; December 29, 2007 -- Penn State overcame a 14-0 first quarter deficit to defeat Texas A&M, 24-17, tonight in the 15th Valero Alamo Bowl in Joe Paterno's 500th game as head coach of the Nittany Lions.
The Nittany Lions (9-4) won their third consecutive bowl game, improving to 26-12-2 overall, with a 9-2 mark in post-season contests since beginning Big Ten Conference competition. The all-time leader in bowl appearances and wins, Paterno improved to 23-10-1 in post-season games. Penn State has won at least nine games in a season 27 times under the Hall of Fame coach.
An Alamo Bowl record crowd of 66,166 was on hand in The Alamodome. The Nittany Lions have played in front of two of the three largest Alamo Bowl throngs, as 65,380 attended the 1999 clash between Penn State and Texas A&M.
The Nittany Lions overcame their largest deficit of the season, having trailed Purdue 10-0 in a 26-19 win, and held the Aggies to just three points over the last three quarters.
Penn State took the lead for good at 24-17 with with :19 left in the third quarter on a 38-yard burst up the middle by redshirt freshman tailback Evan Royster. The run was Royster's longest of the season and the Nittany Lions' second-longest scoring run of the campaign.
Early in the fourth quarter, Jeremy Boone boomed a 55-yard punt and A&M's Roger Holland was dropped at the Aggies' 1 by A.J. Wallace and Justin King. But, Texas A&M proceeded to march downfield looking to tie the game. On fourth-and-one from the Penn State 2, McGee ran the option to the right, but slipped and fell at the six, giving the ball back to the Lions with 7:43 to play.
Runs of 13 and 14 yards by Offensive MVP Rodney Kinlaw helped Penn State run nearly four minutes off the clock before punting. The Aggies gained one first down and were forced to punt from their 33 with 2:01 to play. Royster gained 20 yards on five carries to run out the clock on the exciting victory.
Junior linebacker Sean Lee recorded a game-high 14 tackles, with a TFL and a pass break-up, to earn Defensive MVP honors. Lee's 14 stops tied the Alamo Bowl record, as he recorded double figures in tackles for the 10th time this season, all coming in the last 11 games of the campaign. His 138 tackles this season rank No. 4 on the school season list.
Senior All-America linebacker Dan Connor recorded nine tackles to finish the season with 145 stops, passing Shawn Mayer's 144 for second place on the Penn State season list. Only All-America linebacker Greg Buttle had more, with 165 in 1974. Junior safeties Mark Rubin and Anthony Scirrotto made eight tackles apiece and sophomore defensive end Maurice Evans had six stops and forced two fumbles. Junior OLB Tyrell Sales also had six stops, including a big sack and sophomore cornerback A.J. Wallace made five stops, grabbed his first career interception and had a huge fumble recovery to set-up a score.
Penn State ran for a season-high 270 yards, earning 6.6 yards on its 41 carries. Kinlaw gained 143 yards on 21 attempts (6.8) for his third consecutive 100-yard game and sixth of the season. Royster gained 65 yards on nine carries (7.2) and reserve quarterback Daryll Clark gained 50 yards on just six attempts (8.3), including an 11-yard touchdown run.
Senior quarterback Anthony Morelli was 15 of 31 for 143 yards, including a 30-yard scoring strike to Deon Butler to swing the momentum of the game. Junior wide receiver Derrick Williams made five catches for 39 yards, Butler had four receptions for 59 yards and senior Terrell Golden made two catches for 32 yards.
All-Big Ten punter Jeremy Boone had an outstanding game, averaging 51.4 yards on his five punts, with a long of 55 yards. His average was a Penn State bowl record,
The Nittany Lions started strongly, forcing a three-and-out on Texas A&M's first possession. Penn State earned first downs on three of its first four plays from scrimmage, but the drive stalled and Kevin Kelly's 47-yard field goal was wide.
The Aggies took their second possession 70 yards to grab a 7-0 lead. An 18-yard run by quarterback Stephen McGee was followed by a 26-yard pass from McGee to tight end Martellus Bennett. Tailback Mike Goodson ran one yard for the score with 4:22 left in the first quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Wallace fumbled and the Aggies recovered at the Penn State 16. On first down, Goodson ran 16 yards for the touchdown, giving Texas A&M a 14-0 lead with 4:10 remaining in the opening period.
Early in the second quarter, the Lions got moving behind Kinlaw. Facing a fourth-and-one at the A&M 30 yard line, Morelli lofted a pass that Butler dove and snared in the end zone to get Penn State on the scoreboard. The 65-yard drive consumed 2:53, as Butler grabbed his 15th career touchdown pass. The scoring strike was Morelli's 19th of the season and 31st of his career.
On the Aggies' next possession, Sales recorded an 11-yard sack to force third-and-23. Evans hit Goodson, who coughed up the ball and Wallace grabbed it at the A&M 11, just before it went out of bounds. The forced fumble was Evans' fourth of the season.
On first down, Clark took the snap in shotgun position, faked a handoff and raced up the middle, diving and stretching the ball over the goal line for the score to the delight of the Nittany Lion faithful. Kelly's PAT made it 14-14 with 9:02 left in the second quarter.
In the waning minutes of the first half, Penn State took its first lead of the game. The Nittany Lions marched 78 yards on a season-high 16 plays, with Kelly connecting on a 25-yard field goal with :19 to play for a 17-14 lead. Kelly has made at least one field goal in 20 consecutive games. The Lions posted their eighth scoring drive of the season in the final two minutes of the opening half.
Early in the third quarter, Wallace grabbed his first career interception at the Penn State 43. But, on the Lions' ensuing possession, Morelli was intercepted at the A&M 1. The Lions nearly got the ball right back when Evans forced his second fumble of the game and fifth of the season, but A&M recovered and went on to tie the game at 17-17 on a 38-yard field goal by Matt Szymanski with 3:57 left in the period. The Aggies' 18-play drive consumed 8:45, both season-highs by an opponent this season.
The Nittany Lions quickly retaliated, moving 84 yards in just eight plays to reclaim the lead. Royster zipped up the middle and found daylight, scoring from 38 yards out to give Penn State a 24-17 lead with :19 left in the third quarter. The run was Royster's longest of the season and the Nittany Lions' second-longest scoring run of the campaign.
Four Nittany Lion seniors started the game: Connor, Golden, Kinlaw and Morelli.
Penn State owns one of the nation's top 15 records the past three seasons, improving to 29-9 (76.3). The Nittany Lions have won 31 of their last 40 games overall, dating to the final two games of the 2004 season.
Penn State has won 52 of 63 non-conference games since starting Big Ten play in 1993.