|Score by Quarters
||MSU - K. Reed 11-yard pass from Hoyer (Swenson kick)
||MSU - Brett Swenson 45-yard field goal
||PSU - A. Quarless 17-yard pass from Morelli (Kelly kick)
||MSU - Brett Swenson 29-yard field goal
||PSU - Jordan Norwood 6-yard pass from Morelli (Kelly kick)
||PSu - Kevin Kelly 45-yard field goal
UNIVERSITY PARK -- The season finale, in many ways, fit the season.
Penn State's offense was inconsistent, mistake-prone and had trouble
scoring. Its defense was stubborn, physical and aggressive. It didn't hurt
that the opponent was Michigan State.
The Nittany Lions
(8-4, 5-3 Big Ten) wrapped up their regular season with a hard-fought
17-13 defeat of the slumping Spartans (4-8, 1-7) before
108,607 in Beaver Stadium. It was another gritty, up-and-down performance
-- one that should send Penn State to the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla.,
on New Year's Day -- from a team that has been up and down all season,
often in the same game.
Twenty-three Penn State seniors, including linebacker
Paul Posluszny, tailback Tony Hunt and offensive tackle Levi Brown, ran
out of the Beaver
Stadium tunnel for the final time.
"We wanted the seniors to go out with a win," said Lions safety
Anthony Scirrotto, a sophomore. "And it's given us a little momentum
going into the bowl game."
Penn State tried, on several occasions,
to hand the game to the Spartans, who each time insisted on giving it
right back. The Nittany Lions lost
four fumbles, three in the opening quarter.
"Anytime you have four turnovers in a game, you expect to
lose the game," Brown said. "But our defense played tough and
kept us in it."
Stuck in a 10-0 hole, that defense dug in and withstood
a flurry of Spartan passing. Quarterback Brian Hoyer, who made his first
in place of an injured Drew Stanton, threw 61 passes Saturday, completing
30 for 291 yards and one touchdown. But the Lions punished the Spartan
receivers whether they caught the ball or not. And after a missed field
goal by Michigan State's Brett Swenson on the opening drive of the third
quarter, the Spartans advanced into Penn State territory just once the
rest of the way.
"They put up a few yards," Scirrotto said. "But
they're gonna do that when they're throwing the ball that many times."
coach Joe Paterno watching from the press box, the Lions, as they have
preferred to do for most of the year, attempted to get most of their
yards on the ground. Hunt carried the ball 29 times for 130 yards, half
of those in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Anthony Morelli, who completed
17 of 37 passes for 227 yards, missed receivers by several yards nearly
as often as he connected with
them but tossed a pair of touchdowns and did not throw an interception.
But the Lions had only five drives that lasted longer than five plays.
"Offensively, we didn't do a whole lot," admitted
Penn State offensive coordinator Galen Hall.
The main reason was Penn State's inability
to hold onto the football.
the Lions' second possession, Morelli was drilled by unblocked and blitzing
Spartan safety Travis Key, and lost the ball in the process.
Michigan State's Clifton Ryan recovered at the Penn State 11-yard line,
and two plays later, Hoyer found Kerry Reed for an 11-yard touchdown
On Penn State's very next play from scrimmage, the usually sure-handed
Hunt put the ball on the ground after a hit from Ryan, and Key fell on
it at the Penn State 44. Michigan State turned that turnover into a 45-yard
Swenson field goal.
The Lions made it three in a row on the next possession. A bad exchange
between Morelli and center A.Q. Shipley led to yet another fumble, and
the Spartans' John Stipek grabbed it at the Michigan State 48.
The Spartans turned the ball over on downs when Hoyer couldn't find
an open receiver on 4th-and-1, and after Morelli surged across the line
for a 1-yard
pickup and a key fourth-down conversion of his own, the Spartans put themselves
in position to put a stranglehold on the game.
Morelli was sacked for a 20-yard loss by Jonal Saint-Dic, forcing
the Lions into a 4th-and-32 situation. But the Spartans roughed punter
Jeremy Kapinos, which gave the Lions an automatic first down.
Morelli then connected with freshman tight end Andrew Quarless for gains
of 24 and 17, the latter a touchdown pass with just under five minutes left in
But on Penn State's next series, Hunt fumbled again, and the Spartans
tacked on three more points when Swenson kicked a 29-yard field goal with 1:11
to play in the second quarter.
"We were very fortunate to drop the ball four times and be in the
football game," Hall said.
The Lions have their defense to thank for that. Posluszny was stellar
in his final home game, leading the team with eight tackles and breaking up a
pair of passes. Fellow linebacker Dan Connor made seven stops, as did senior
nickelback Nolan McCready, a former walk-on who saw extended action as the Spartans
threw pass after pass.
Penn State took the lead on a brisk 7-play, 80-yard drive in the third,
Morelli finding Derrick Williams and Hunt for gains of 23 yards apiece and Quarless
for 29. Jordan Norwood grabbed a 6-yard touchdown pass with 4:47 left in the
third and Kevin Kelly's extra point was all the Lions would need. Kelly would
add a 45-yard field goal with 4:28 left in the fourth quarter, but Hunt and the
defense took care of the rest.
"Today they never flinched," said Lions defensive coordinator
Tom Bradley. "I told them when it was 14-13 (Penn State), 'If they don't
score, we win.'"
The Spartans didn't, and the Lions walked away with another win that wasn't
dominant, wasn't against a top team but counts as a win all the same.
"We wanted to get to a certain level," Brown said. "Whether
we got there, I don't know, but we're 8-4 and looking to go 9-4."