Penn State Capitalizes on Call for 28-27 Overtime Win
Saturday, October 7, 2006

Coach Glen Mason and his Minnesota Gophers ran jubilantly onto the field as Penn State’s fourth-down pass in overtime was broken up. Then they saw the penalty flag. Cornerback Trumaine Banks was called for pass interference on the Nittany Lions’ Deon Butler. A few plays later, Tony Hunt bulled into the end zone, and, with Kevin Kelly’s conversion, Penn State had a 28-27 win.

The score came after the Gophers, with first possession in overtime, had scored on a 25-yard pass from Bryan Cupito to Eric Decker, who outleaped Tony Davis on the left side of the end zone. However, Jason Giannini’s point-after attempt banged off the left upright, leaving the Gophers with only a six-point lead.

Mason called the contest “a great college football game. It doesn’t get any better than that,” quickly adding, “I guess it gets a little bit better if I’m sitting here and we’d won the football game.”

Joe PaternoOf the interference call, Penn State coach Joe Paterno said there was “no question” about it. Mason, on the far side of the field from the play, said he couldn’t tell and hadn’t yet seen a replay as addressed reporters in his post-game press conference. “I hope it was a blatant foul,” he said and stuck to that response even when an eldery local reporter, known for his boosterism and bias, approached him after the press conference and said it was a “[equine excrement] call.”

The teams had staged a great battle with the Gophers looking strong on their first possession. Dominic Jones, sprung by a block by Keith Massey, returned a Penn State punt 17 yards to Minnesota’s 48. Amir Pinnix twice ran for first downs, the second time as the Gophers faced a third-and-seven situation. Cupito then hit tight end Matt Spaeth, who got behind linebacker Dan Connor in the middle of the field and took the ball into the end zone untouched. With Giannini’s point, Minnesota was up 7-0.

The Gopher defense, which was especially strong on third downs throughout the game, forced punts on Penn State’s first three possessions. On the final one, however, the Gophers’ Dominic Jones signaled for a fair catch and then dropped the ball on his own 9 yard line. Joe Cianciolo covered for the Lions. Hunt took two plays to reach the end zone, the second a six-yard scoring run, and the game was tied.

Both teams missed scoring opportunities when stopped on quarterback sneaks deep in opposing territory. Late in the second half, Penn State missed another chance on a 32-yard field goal attempt. Holder Kevin Suhey couldn’t control a low snap. He picked up the ball, scrambled, and lofted a pass that was intercepted by linebacker John Shevlin, giving Minnesota the ball on their own 12 with 2:02 left in the half.

The Gophers not only couldn’t advance the ball, they failed to run much time off the clock. On second down, Amir Pinnix was unable to stay in bounds on a sweep to the left, saving Penn State from using one of its two remaining time outs. After another run, Penn State called a time out, and got the ball back at Minnesota’s 39 with 48 seconds left following a 17 yard punt return by Derrick Williams.

Anthony Morelli, who had been questionable after chipping a knuckle and dislocating a finger on his non-throwing hand in practice the day before, went to Jordan Norwood, who got the ball out of bounds after a 24-yard gain to the Minnesota 15. Morelli then threw a screen pass to Hunt, who scampered into the end zone for a 14-7 lead.

Paterno said they would have tried the screen pass even if they hadn’t had the time out left, thanks to Pinnix running out of bounds on the previous drive for Minnesota. “I think we should have thrown the screen a couple more times, they were blitzing so much,” he added.

Penn State missed another scoring chance in the third quarter as Kelly was wide to the right on a 42-yard field-goal try. The Gophers came back and were on the move as the third quarter ended. Cupito found Spaeth with two passes, the second one good for 17 yards to Penn State’s 26. Pinnix then took a swing pass down to the 4 and, on the next play, burst into the end zone for a touchdown. With Giannini’s conversion, the Gophers had tied the game.

Penn State started the next drive on its own 18. Hunt displayed some of his best moves of the game, slashing and cutting through the Gophers’ defense on eight runs that totaled 47 yards. In between, Morelli had completions of 15 yards to Butler and 14 yards to Jordan. The Lion’s faced a third-and-goal at the Minnesota seven when Morelli faked a hand-off to Hunt and passed to fullback Matt Hahn, who continued into the end zone to put the Lions back in front.

The Nittany Lions’ defense held on Minnesota’s next possession, forcing a punt and getting the ball back with 4:06 left in the fourth quarter. Hunt ran for five yards on the next play. Minnesota’s Shevlin was injured on the play and hobbled off the field. Hunt also hobbled, but back to the Penn State huddle rather than the sideline. He was then hit for a three-yard loss by Willie Van De Steeg. After a Minnesota timeout, Hunt remained on the sidelines with his backup, Rodney Kinlaw, entering in his place. Kinlaw was thrown for a three-yard loss, and Penn State had to punt. Paterno said Hunt had not been hurt, just tired, explaining, “Kinlaw’s a pretty good back.”

Minnesota was pushed back by a 59-yard punt by Jeremy Kapinos and started at its own 14 with 2:33 left. The Gophers had all their time outs remaining, but they faced a fourth-and-two after Cupito overshot Decker down the left sideline. Cupito then went over the middle to Logan Payne, who evaded tacklers and turned the pass into a 42-yard gain. After a six-yard completion to Ernie Wheelwright, Cupito went to the middle again, hitting Spaeth, who was finally knocked down only a yard short of the end zone.

Pinnix took it in on the next play, and the Gophers had tied the game with just over a minute to play in the fourth quarter. After an incomplete pass by Penn State, Paterno decided to run the ball and let the clock run out, choosing overtime over the possibility of making a mistake deep in its own territory.

The Nittany Lions won the coin flip and chose to defend first in overtime. Starting on the Penn State 25, the Gophers gained nothing on their first two attempts. On third down, Cupito connected with Decker in the end zone. The Gophers’ elation over the score was tempered when Giannini hit the upright, leaving the door open for Penn State.

Needing a touchdown of its own, Penn State picked up only a yard on its first three plays. Morelli then went to Butler on the right sideline. Banks broke up the pass but grabbed Butler’s right arm in the process, drawing the interference penalty.

Its lift extended, Penn State got to the 2 yard line as Derrick Williams followed his blockers for 11 yards. Hunt was stopped at the line on his next carry, but then got through the middle for a touchdown on the next. As Kelly’s conversion sailed between the uprights for the winning margin, it was Penn State that turned jubilant.

Pinnix had 82 of the Gophers’ 90 yards on the ground, slightly more than the average allowed by Penn State, which came into the game with the Big Ten’s second-best rushing defense. Cupito completed 25 of 36 passes for 347 yards and two touchdowns. Spaeth and Payne each had six catches for 99 and 94 yards, respectively while Decker hauled in four passes for 66 yards.

For Penn State, Hunt carried the ball 31 times for 147 yards, his longest run 14 yards. Morelli was 20 for 34 in passing for 281 yards and two touchdowns. Williams caught four passes for 95 yards, Norwood five passes for 76 yards, and Butler six passes for 66 yards.

The Nittany Lions upped their record to 4-2, 2-1 in the Big Ten while the Gophers’ conference record dropped to 0-3, 2-4 overall.

“It was a whale of a ball game,” said Mason. “The players played really hard. So did the Penn State players. That’s what makes Big Ten football what it is.”

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