No. 7 Penn State holds off rally by No. 16 Michigan, remains unbeaten
UNIVERSITY PARK – Lamont Wade’s head was ringing. He was tired. It had been a long night.
But Michigan was just 3 yards and a conversion kick from possibly sending the game into overtime and jeopardizing Penn State’s perfect season.
Something had to be done.
“I was thinking, they can’t score on me,” said Wade, Penn State’s junior safety. “If they get a touchdown, it can’t be on me. That’s the only thing that was going through my head.”
But Wade, a graduate of Clairton’s proud football program, was thinking straight despite the ringing in his head, and that’s what sealed No. 7 Penn State’s stirring 28-21 victory Saturday night against No. 16 Michigan before a crowd of 110,669 at Beaver Stadum.
(No wonder Wade’s head was ringing: It was the fourth-largest crowd in Beaver Stadium history.)
Penn State (7-0, 4-0) remained one of 11 undefeated teams in the FBS while Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s record against Associated Press Top 10 teams fell to 1-10.
But the Wolverines nearly pulled off a stunning comeback.
On the decisive fourth down with two minutes, one second left in the game, Michigan wide receiver Ronnie Bell took a few steps into the end zone on a little slant route. Wade was running Michigan’s options through his head, and he had this one figured correctly.
“I put my money on the slant,” he said.
Quarterback Shea Patterson lasered the ball toward Bell, but Wade was right behind him — close enough to make a difference without interfering.
“I got my hand on the ball,” he said. “I thought he caught it because when I punched it, it went down, but I thought he still had it.”
Finally, the ball hit the ground.
“It felt amazing. After the game I couldn’t move,” Wade said. “My head was ringing because I was just exhausted.”
Still, the game wasn’t over.
Penn State needed to run out the minutes. On third-and-3 from the 10-yard line, Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford gave the ball to 5-foot-9, 176-pound wide receiver K.J. Hamler, who found 4 yards and the first down against the stingy Michigan defense.
Why Hamler in that situation?
“Instead of just handing the ball off with (Michigan) overloading the box,” Penn State coach James Franklin said, “we needed to go with one of our read plays where Sean has an opportunity to keep it or K.J. can get it on the perimeter.”
It was fitting that Hamler had the chance to secure the victory after he caught two touchdown passes from Clifford – 25 and 53 yards — to help Penn State take a 21-0 lead in the first half and a 28-21 advantage in the fourth quarter. He finished the game with six catches for 108 yards.
The 53-yarder was a product of Penn State knowing it needed to hit big plays over top of Michigan’s stout defense. Hamler ran into the open and Clifford dropped it into his hands.
The touchdown gave Penn State a 28-14 lead after the Wolverines had rallied to within seven.
“I knew with K.J.’s speed, you just have to give him a chance,” said Clifford, who completed 14 of 25 passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns, including a 17-yarder to tight end Pat Freiermuth. “I’m not going to lie. That ball hung up there a very long time, a lot longer than I wanted it to.”
Franklin wasn’t happy that Michigan dominated much of the second half, but he liked the way his team responded after Michigan twice crawled to within a touchdown of the lead.
“We didn’t play our best game in all three phases,” said Franklin, whose team gave up three touchdowns for the first time this season. “But we played well enough to win the game. We made plays when it was needed. We missed some tonight, but we won enough of them.
“No doubt we have to get better.”
Meanwhile, Wade called the game the most intense he’s been a part of, but he wouldn’t label the pass breakup his signature moment at Penn State. It was merely another example of the 5-9, 199-pound Wade daring anyone to knock the chip off his shoulder.
“I try to play with that chip on my shoulder for my city, for my family, everything,” he said.
“I’ve been doubted my whole life, people telling me I’m not good enough. I’m too small. A whole bunch of stuff, everything I’ve been through in my life.
“I’m playing for more than me, my little boy, everything.
“I feel like I can’t fail. Whatever I do, I can’t fail.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .