Nebraska nips Penn State on emotion-filled afternoon
UNIVERSITY PARK -- Penn State players walked arm-in-arm onto the Beaver Stadium turf to show solidarity. They walked through a line of 317 former lettermen, looked around to see their classmates and fans decked out in blue and, when the game clock struck zero, left to a roaring standing ovation.
There was no historic comeback, no ceremony to honor their former head coach. For the first time since 1949, Joe Paterno was not in Beaver Stadium on a football Saturday.
But by day's end, there was hope. Hope that the team and university could move forward after a sex abuse scandal surrounding former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky cost Paterno and president Graham Spanier their jobs, resulted in the administrative leaves of athletic director Tim Curley and wide receivers coach Mike McQueary, and left the student body and fans distraught.
"It was a week unprecedented in college football history," interim head coach Tom Bradley said. "The whole thing was very emotional."
The Nittany Lions' bid to stay perfect in conference play fell short, as No. 19 Nebraska knocked off No. 12 Penn State, 17-14, before 107,903 at Beaver Stadium. The Lions' 14 unanswered second-half points weren't enough, as their rally fell 44 yards short.
Penn State (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) stuck with quarterback Matt McGloin, and the defense had its bright moments, but it was hardly an ordinary Saturday. The inside track to the inaugural Big Ten championship game was at stake, but the distractions remained.
After an emotional arrival at the stadium, where quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno made a rare appearance on the program's traditional blue buses, he stepped off and pumped his fists in the air as the crowd chanted, "We are..."
Senior running back Brandon Beachum wore a gray "Joe knows football" T-shirt under his pads as he took the field and was showered by cheers from the student body.
"Can't imagine," offensive coordinator Galen Hall said of what Joe Paterno must have felt. "You can't even measure it. It has to be harder than that, whatever those measures are. I can't think of a good word."
Authorities increased security at the stadium and other university venues. Students were alerted via the university's text message service about a reported bomb threat about three hours before kickoff. Police dogs searched the area, and the game kicked off as scheduled, but extra police lined the field and were on horseback in the parking lot.
Still, players and coaches said their focus was on the game.
"That's the way he's trained us," Jay Paterno said, referring to his father. The younger Paterno gave his father a letter yesterday morning expressing his thoughts for him, and he teared up when he walked off the field after the game. "He's trained us to be professionals, and those are lessons you don't loose quickly. Those are things that stay with you for the rest of your life."
The former lettermen lined the Lions' sideline to show support for the seniors and the elder Paterno. They had little to cheer about early on.
The Lions were held scoreless until midway through the third quarter but broke through on a 5-yard run by senior running back Stephfon Green, cutting the deficit to 17-7. A 40-yard pass from McGloin to Derek Moye (Rochester) set up the score.
Green had run-ins with Paterno during the past year, but he held no grudges and said he wanted to win for his former 84-year-old coach. Green rushed for a team-high 71 yards on 17 carries and scored two touchdowns.
"He got us here," Green said of Paterno, who kicked him off the team before Green's teammates went to Paterno's house to convince him to give Green another chance. "We still try to play for him. This season and everything that's going to go on is going to be dedicated to Coach P."
The Lions didn't have the answers for the Huskers, who took control after Anthony Fera missed a 47-yard field goal in the first quarter. Nebraska responded with a 41-yarder in the second quarter and extended its lead to 10-0 with Ameer Abdullah's 2-yard touchdown with less than a minute remaining in the first half.
Players said it was difficult to not think about where their former coach was. Paterno sent a letter to the squad that was read before practice Thursday. They fell short of fulfilling the meaning of his message -- "Beat Nebraska" -- but players said they were optimistic the team and university can begin to move on.
"We had a responsibility in the healing process, and I think we did what we could," left tackle Quinn Barham said. "We fought hard, and we hope everyone can move on from what happened this week."
Penn State vs. Nebraska game action
Penn State suffers it's first Big Ten Conference loss of the season as a 4th quarter comeback against Nebraska falls short. The cornhuskers defeated the Nittany Lions 17-14.
Penn State Interim Coach Tom Bradley takes the reins
Penn State Interim Coach Tom Bradley takes the reins of the Nittany Lions in their game at Beaver Stadium.