Lions overcome mistakes to win
A couple of key plays let Purdue make it close.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Penn State's two quarterbacks weren't all that impressive Saturday. Its running game sputtered compared to the previous week against Iowa. Its sturdy defense shocked the 100,820 Beaver Stadium onlookers by yielding a pass play of 50 yards and a 39-yard run to Purdue.
Yet the Nittany Lions found a way to get to 6-1 on the season, into first place in the Big Ten Leaders Division, and eligible for a postseason bowl game by pulling out a 23-18 victory over the Boilermakers on a cool and windy day.
It marked the fifth time in their seven games that the Lions (3-0 Big Ten) were held to two touchdowns or fewer. They were aided by three field goals from Anthony Fera, including a career-best 40-yarder.
The Boilermakers (3-3, 1-1) had their chances, but their kicking game hurt them. Carson Wiggs missed an extra point and a field goal and pulled a kickoff out of bounds that led to a 60-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter for Penn State.
Some people might call the Lions lucky. But the players don't want to hear it.
"Nothing is a matter of luck," offensive tackle and cocaptain Quinn Barham said. "It's a matter of really playing hard. Sometimes plays are not going to go your way. I don't think it's a matter of luck. It's hard work and really just playing football."
Cornerback D'Anton Lynn, who returned after missing two games with a concussion, echoed those sentiments.
"I don't know about luck," Lynn said. "I think we played real hard. We definitely had some plays go our way, but we've worked real hard, and it's been showing on the football field."
Still, the Nittany Lions made their own bad breaks. Matt McGloin threw an interception - his team's only turnover - on a tipped ball at the goal line, and the 55-yard return set up a Boilermakers touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
Chaz Powell electrified the crowd by returning the ensuing kickoff 92 yards to the Purdue 3, but he flipped the ball in the air instead of handing it to the official and was assessed an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty. The Nittany Lions could not make a first down and Fera kicked a 29-yard field goal to make it a five-point game with 6 minutes, 24 seconds to play.
"That's on me," Powell said. "You've got to hand the ball to the refs."
"You're not supposed to call attention to yourself," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. "It's a tough call, but theoretically, it's one they're supposed to call."
But the Lions persevered. Silas Redd didn't find the holes he ran through the week before, but still picked up 131 yards on 28 carries and scored on a 9-yard run in the third quarter.
The quarterbacks struggled, particularly with wind gusts that sometimes exceeded 30 m.p.h. McGloin didn't start but played nine of his team's 13 possessions, hitting 8 of 17 passes for 145 yards. Rob Bolden piloted the drive that led to the Lions' first touchdown, Curtis Dukes' 1-yard run, but completed just 2 of 6 for 40 yards.
The defense picked off three passes, two by linebacker Nate Stupar, one by free safety Nick Sukay. After allowing 222 yards in the first half, the unit yielded just 120 yards in the second, giving up two touchdowns on short fields off a kickoff return and the McGloin pick.
The first touchdown got Purdue to within a point, but Wiggs' extra-point try hit the right upright to keep it 13-12. Because Redd scored on Penn State's next possession, the Boilermakers had to go for two after their second TD, but quarterback Caleb TerBush was stopped short of the goal line.
The Boilermakers' last possession started on their 1, thanks to a 69-yard punt by Fera that was downed at the 2, and a penalty. Stupar intercepted TerBush on fourth down, and McGloin's fourth-down sneak gave the Lions a first down and the win.
"Any time you win a game, I feel fortunate," Paterno said. "But I think that would be taking away from the kids. I think we have a bunch of kids that have worked hard.
"Fortunate? Yeah, fortunate that we got a couple of bounces and unfortunate that we made a couple of games closer than they should have been because we made some mistakes. I just want to worry about this one."