Nebraska keeps Legends Division hopes alive in emotional atmosphere
When people look back on this one nobody will talk about how Nebraska had to dig deep to hold on to a 17-14 victory, nor will they talk about how Rex Burkhead rushed for 126 yards against a very tough Penn State defense. Nobody will go back and question the Big Ten referees, nor will they remember Penn State wide receiver Curtis Drake completing a pass to quarterback Matt McGloin in the clutch.
This was a day that was about far more than football.
There is no hiding the fact that the past week at Penn State has not been what you would call normal. A sex abuse scandal has torn apart the pristine image Penn State has had for years if not decades, but Saturday was an opportunity to come together as a community and begin some semblance of a healing process. While the university attempted to carry on with as normal a day as possible it was clear that this was not your typical game day.
The students dressed in blue in honor of victims of sex abuse. Nebraska and Penn State gathered at midfield and huddled in prayer before the game got underway. And lest we forget, Joe Paterno was nowhere in sight other than the statue outside Beaver Stadium and a couple of brief glimpses during senior class videos played at halftime.
Tom Bradley, who was named the interim head coach for Penn State earlier this week following the dismissal of Paterno for his role in the Jerry Sandusky investigation, made every effort possible to ensure this day and this game was about the players first and foremost. He sat in his regular defensive coordinator seat on the bus. Paterno’s usual seat was left vacant. He jogged on to the field before the team made their usual entrance, making the decision to not lead his team on the field. And when the team did enter the field, they did so with arms locked and walking out, rather than the usual running through the Blue Band tunnel. It was, by far, one of the most dramatic scenes we have ever seen unfold in Beaver Stadium, and the game had yet to begin.
When the game did finally begin, it was another rough outing for Penn State’s offense. Despite putting together more offensive yards on the day than Nebraska the team missed on their first scoring opportunity (a missed field goal by Anthony Fera) and they were unable to slow down Nebraska’s running attack, fueled by Burkhead and supplemented by Martinez.
Nebraska jumped out to a 17-0 lead before Penn State could put a dent on the scoreboard. A 41-yard field goal from Brett Maher in the second quarter got things started and Ameer Abdullah’s push through the trenches for a 2-yard touchdown opened up a 10-0 lead for Nebraska late in the first half. Burkhead took an option for 14-yards for what would end up being the game winning score for Nebraska in the third quarter, and that is when Penn State started to claw back in to the game.
Stephfon Green scored two touchdowns in his final game in Beaver Stadium, once in the third quarter and again in the fourth quarter. Despite a late push to at least get in to field goal position, Penn State’s late rally seemingly ended on a 4th and one with time starting to wind down. Though they got the ball back after stopping Nebraska on a 4th and short, time just ran out on the Nittany Lions.
Though the scoreboard indicated otherwise and the record book will show a loss next to Penn State on this day, there were no losers on Saturday. The players and coaches from both teams, the fans of both teams, the student section, the Blue Band, the cheerleaders and mascots and whoever else may have been inside Beaver Stadium walked away from Saturday as a winner, helping to begin that healing process, even in the smallest of ways.
As the game clock hit triple zeroes, the crowd of 107,903 were mostly still in the stands applauding their home team. It was not just because this was the final home game in Beaver Stadium until September 1, 2012. It was a symbolic gesture that this campus, university, fan base and community will live on in unison.
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