Penn State Captures Second Straight, Paterno Breaks All Time Record

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Joe Paterno, ready for action against OSU
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- It’s been a long time, and a lot of wins, since Joe Paterno recorded his first career victory against Maryland in 1966. With the help of Mike Reid, who blocked three kicks that resulted in safeties that day, Paterno beat the Terrapins 15-9. On Saturday, 35 years after that first triumph, Paterno and wife Sue stood with their family on the field of Beaver Stadium, celebrating another milestone: win number 324.

The Nittany Lions, behind a strong performance from freshman quarterback Zack Mills, carried forward their momentum from last week’s upset over Northwestern and beat border rival Ohio State 29-27 in front of a full house at Beaver Stadium. With the win, Paterno passes Bear Bryant for the lead in career victories among major college coaches.

After the game, Paterno spoke to the crowd of 108, 327. The veteran coach praised his team and hugged his wife Sue on the makeshift stage. "I can't tell you how proud I am of this football team," Paterno said. "They could have packed it in a long time ago. But they came back last week, and they came back today, and I tell you they're going to be one hell of a football team."

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Ohio State started fast, determined not to let the emotion of the crowd alter its gameplan. After the Buckeyes forced Penn State to punt on its first drive, quarterback Steve Bellisari immediately went to work on the Lion's secondary. On OSU’s first play from scrimmage, Bellisari hit wideout Michael Jenkins in stride on a post pattern, and Jenkins did the rest, sprinting 66 yards for the touchdown, giving Ohio State a 7-0 lead.

On Penn State’s next possession, Joe Paterno replaced starting quarterback Matt Senneca with the freshman Mills. Mills looked confident against the Buckeyes defense from the start, completing a 29-yard pass to Bryant Johnson and a nine-yarder to Mick Blosser before the drive stalled at the Ohio State 6-yard line. Placekicker Robbie Gould picked up the slack, drilling a 23-yard field goal to make the score
7-3.

Shawn Mayer led the way with 11 tackles on the day
Shawn Mayer led the way with 11 tackles on the day
Penn State was able to stuff Ohio State’s next drive, but Buckeyes punter Andy Groom pinned Penn State at its own 8-yard line. Still, the Lion offense was able to move the ball out of the shadow of its own goalpost. Mills completed back-to-back passes to wideout Tony Johnson for nine and 12 yards, respectively, to start the drive. Mills’s next pass found Eric McCoo, who sprinted 35 yards down the left sideline. The drive stalled when Mills – who completed his initial six passes – threw his first incomplete pass – a fade route to Tony Johnson that just missed the sophomore wideout. Gould delivered again, drilling the kick from 46 yards out, a career long for the freshman placekicker. With just over two minutes left in the first quarter, Ohio State clung to a 7-6 lead.

Penn State forced Ohio State to punt on its next possession, but a quick turnover gave the ball back to the Buckeyes. Pressured by linebacker Joe Cooper, Mills hurried a throw before getting sandwiched, and the floater ended up in the hands of Buckeyes defensive back Cie Grant. From there, Mike Nugent successfully capped a 7-play, 28-yard drive with a 28-yard field goal, making the score 10-6. Just under four minutes later, Gould answered Nugent’s field goal with one of his own, tying his career long with another 46-yard kick to draw the Lions within one point, 10-9. Ohio State had a chance to add to its lead with less than five minutes to play in the first half, but Josh Huston’s 52-yard attempt was well short and fell no good. Ohio State settled for another Nugent field goal, just before the half to go into intermission up 13-9

Ohio State started the second half in much the same style as the first – quickly. Wells took a handoff from Bellisari on the half’s second play, and exploded for a 65-yard touchdown run to increase Ohio State’s lead to 20-9, just one minute into the third quarter. Two plays into Penn State’s ensuing drive, things went from bad to worse as Mills looked to hit a wide-open Eddie Drummond in the flat. The pass was high, and deflected off the tops of Drummond’s fingers and into the waiting arms of cornerback Derek Ross. Ross ran untouched for the score, the second for the Buckeyes in less than three minutes of second half action, giving Ohio State a 27-9 lead.

Zack Mills from the gun
Zack Mills from the gun. Mills had 418 yards of total offense on the day, a Penn State record.
Penn State needed to respond quickly, and did. On the second play of Penn State’s next drive, Mills turned an ordinary quarterback keeper into the most spectacular play of the game. The freshman quarterback escaped pressure at the line of scrimmage, leapt over a fallen defensive lineman, bounced out to the sidelines and raced 69 yards for a touchdown. The play was the longest running play of the season for Penn State, and the longest rush by a Penn State player since a 70-yard scamper by Chafie Fields against Arizona in 1999. Also, the scramble was the longest run by a Nittany Lion quarterback since a 75-yard jaunt by Jon Sacca in 1991. The two-point conversion failed, and the Ohio State lead was cut to 27-15.

“That may be the fastest I have ever run,” said a smiling Mills after the game, “I was worried that I might get caught from behind. At about the 15 yard line, I looked up at the Jumbo Tron to check behind me.”

After trading punts with Penn State, Ohio State was on the move again. This time, the Buckeyes drive ended when Wells committed a crucial mistake; the senior tailback was stripped of the ball by Yaacov Yisreal. Shawn Mayer recovered the fumble and returned it seven yards. Two plays later, Penn State was back in the endzone. Mills hit Bryant Johnson for 33 yards on the drive’s first play, and then found Tony Johnson in the front corner of the endzone, splitting two defenders with a 26-yard strike. The touchdown pulled the Lions within five points, and the third quarter ended with the Buckeyes leading 27-22.

Beaver Stadium – and the Penn State defense – came alive after Johnson’s touchdown. The Lions held the Buckeyes to three-and-out, and got the ball back at the 10-yard line after a 60-yard punt. From there, the Lions began a stingy, time-consuming touchdown drive that put Penn State ahead for the first time – and for good. The key play of the 10-play, 90-yard drive was a 31-yard pass play to R.J Luke that wasn’t drawn up the way it turned out. First, Mills dropped into the shotgun and the snap sailed over his head. He then picked up the fumble, outran Buckeye defenders towards the sideline, and completed a pass to a wide-open Luke, who ran to the Ohio State 13. On the next play, Mills and McCoo hooked up. The senior tailback hauled in an over-the-shoulder pass for a touchdown, giving Penn State the lead, 29-27. McCoo’s TD capped 20 unanswered points and secured the victory for Penn State.

“When the ball went over my head, I knew I would pick it up and go left,” said Mills of the play before the score. “The play was designed to go that way, and when I looked up, R.J. Luke was wide open."

Late in the game, Jimmy Kennedy made a game saving block of a Mike Nugent 34-yard field goal attempt. The Lions recovered, and ran out the clock to preserve the 29-27 victory. Afterwards, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel shook hands with Paterno at midfield, then quickly retreated to the locker room. "I have respect for his (Paterno’s) tremendous career, but that moment was for he and his team," Tressel said. Steve Bellisari, was 8 for 21 for 209 yards in the losing effort and his favorite target, Michael Jenkins, had four catches for 172 yards and the score.

His counterpart, Zack Mills, who played all but one series for the Lions, threw two touchdowns and broke his own freshman passing record with 280 yards. Mills was 17 of 32 for the game and also ran for 138 yards and a touchdown. His 418 yards of total offense is a Penn State record. The previous total offense high was 370, set by Mike McQueary in 1997 against Pitt.

Tony Johnson, Bryant Johnson and Eric McCoo each had over 60 yards receiving on the game, and both Tony Johnson and McCoo scored for Penn State. It was the second straight game in which the Lions racked up more than 500 total yards in offense, and the first time all season that Penn State won the time of possession battle.

On defense, Shawn Mayer led Penn State with 11 tackles, including one for loss, and a fumble recovery.

Mills said the Lions just have to continue focusing on working hard. “Everyone doubted us, including the media, except for him (Paterno). We kept plugging away at it – and we’ll just keep going. After the bye week, we said it was a new season, 0-0. We’ve just got to keep winning.”

Penn State hosts Southern Mississippi next, and the Buckeyes travel to Minnesota to face the Golden Gophers.

Adam Taliaferro
Miracle in the Making: the Adam Taliaferro Story.
Adam Taliaferro
Official 324 Special Commemorative Program

 

 

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