STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — They came to Happy Valley, 90,000 strong, to chant and cheer and stand by their team in a new era of Penn State football.
By the end, as the Nittany Lions trudged off the field, a battered fan base would need at least another week to celebrate.
Hours after fans made their cathartic drive to Beaver Stadium, handmade signs and banners attached to their RVs, they quietly sang their alma mater.
You know, the song with the lyrics, “May no act of ours bring shame.”
But in a clear display of coach Bill O’Brien’s challenge ahead, the new, short-handed Nittany Lions wore down in the second half, and Ohio, from the Mid-American Conference, upset Penn State, 24-14, on Saturday. It was a sad ending for a devoted fan base that came ready to rock the house, after scandal rocked the program.
“I thought it was a great atmosphere,” O’Brien said, “in the stands at Beaver Stadium.”
Indeed it was, despite the loss. O’Brien, in fact, led the charge in the first home opener without Joe Paterno since 1949, his players behind him, storming the field as more than 97,000 fans kicked off a new chapter in the program’s tarnished history with a raucous and sustained ovation.
Then came the familiar refrain that has echoed through the stadium for decades:
“We are … Penn State!”
The Nittany Lions want to make headlines for more than lurid tales of child abuse. As a result, this opener was about more than football. And it showed.
Penn State held a moment of reflection Saturday for all victims of sexual abuse. Penn State also asked fans to pause and know that all those affected by abuse are remembered in their hearts. Then, a university accused of placing football above all turned the page when it invited 600 athletes from all of its sports teams to participate in the pregame show as part of Penn State’s “One Team” motto.
Yes, this would be a time to remember all those hurt. But the tagline in the scoreboard highlight video made it clear Penn State’s program was ready for “the next chapter.”
When the team arrived at the stadium, O’Brien, the former offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots, was the first person to deboard off bus No. 1, followed by his game captains Derek Day, Jordan Hill, Gerald Hodges and Matt McGloin.
Boisterous fans waited at the tunnel entrance for hours and lined the road like a parade route as they waited for team busses.
They showed love for the former coach with chants of “Joe Pa-ter-no!” before turning their shrieks toward O’Brien. There were thunderous roars for the players as they exited the bus. Clearly, the fans showed they will stand by the players that stuck with the program.
More than 90 percent of the roster stayed after the NCAA handed down its punishment July 23.
“Getting off the bus was a crazy feeling,” Hill, a defensive tackle, said. “The support that we got was one of the best things I’ve ever felt, seeing all the fans out there outside when we got off the bus.”
So much has changed on the field, but the lively atmosphere remained the same outside Beaver Stadium. Even in defeat, the overall mood around the program is that of pride, perseverance and support — for both O’Brien and Paterno.
The latter’s widow, Sue Paterno, arrived with her daughter, Mary Kay, about 15 minutes before kickoff and came in through an employee entrance. When asked by the Associated Press what Saturday’s game meant to her, she quietly said she “just wants us to win.” Sue left the game before the fourth quarter, in order to watch a grandson’s youth football game.
Former Penn State running back Franco Harris, outwardly vocal in his support of the Paternos through the scandal, watched the game in a suite — next to a life-sized cutout of “JoePa.”
“I am excited about our new beginning with coach Bill O’Brien,” Harris said. “But I will never forget our history and what we accomplished.”
Paterno was fired in November following 46 seasons, days after former assistant Jerry Sandusky was arrested on child molestation charges. Paterno’s son, quarterback coach Jay Paterno, also left the staff.
Tailgaters still backed Paterno in the parking lots, though many wore “We Bill-ieve” shirts, endorsing Penn State’s new leader, who has been a steadying force within the program for nine months.
Though Paterno’s statue was removed July 22, the day before the NCAA announced sanctions for the Sandusky scandal, many fans still journeyed over to its spot, while others illustrated their support. One tailgater, in fact, had a 16-foot, homemade banner that read “409 wins with honor,” referring to Paterno’s victory total. Other fans donned shirts that read “We Are … Still Proud.”
Where the statue used to stand, a fan placed a Paterno bobblehead between the trees. Others stopped to snap pictures with cellphones and cameras. Dressed in Penn State jerseys, Cindy and Mark Wascavage of Washington, N.J., paused to remember the man they say will always be the face of Penn State football.
“It makes you wanna cry,” Cindy, 54, said as she saw the bobblehead.
The couple has held season tickets for nine years and has always admired the former coach, even through these difficult times.
“He was the whole football program,” Cindy said, while Mark believes during this proud season, win or lose, all of Penn State will stand united.
At Paterno’s gravesite, fresh flowers were added to the fading collection of notes and memorabilia by Rob Elchynski, 44, who stopped by with his wife and friends before the game.
“I think it’s critical to the moving-on that they talk about, that they start playing football again,” Elchynski said, walking back to his car after saying a short prayer at the grave.
The students, alumni and fans outside the stadium were nearly unanimous in their stance that Paterno received a raw deal and the university should have dug in and fought back against the NCAA sanctions. Indeed, they’ve united behind the program following strict NCAA sanctions including a four-year bowl ban.
“We’re maybe more determined than ever to be supportive,” Mike Bealla, of Harrisburg, Pa., said. “If you’re a fan, you’re a fan. The spirit will be there.”
About 90 minutes before kickoff, a plane flew over Beaver Stadium with a banner reading “Oust Erickson/Trustees,” referring to Penn State president Rodney Erickson. But through it all, good behavior ruled the day. In fact, State College police reported no incidents.
The weather was tough for some, though. With temperatures topping out around 90 degrees, there were some fans who required heat-related aid, according to the school’s department of public information.
On the field, of course, the players donned their new jerseys, complete with names on the back. That was O’Brien’s call, tinkering with the classic look in order to recognize the players who stuck with the program amid the scandal. It’s always been about family at Penn State, and so it’s no surprise that Karen Caldwell, the wife of equipment manager, Brad “Spider” Caldwell, stitched the names on the jerseys.
A blue ribbon was also placed on the back of helmets to show support for child abuse victims.
“Sweet Caroline,” the Neil Diamond classic, was scrapped for rock music blasted at ear-ringing decibels that would have made Paterno cringe. In fact, as the Nittany Lions took the field for warm-ups, “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC was the song of choice.
Atmosphere and positivity aside, there were still scores of empty seats and rows deep into the game, which is unusual for an opener. The announced crowd was 97,186. Beaver Stadium seats 106,572, and last year, the Nittany Lions averaged 105,231.
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Taylor Martinez threw for a career-high 354 yards and matched his high with five touchdown passes to lead No. 17 Nebraska to a 49-20 victory over Southern Mississippi on Saturday.
The Huskers won their nation-leading 27th straight opener.
Nebraska played the last three quarters without Rex Burkhead. The 1,300-yard rusher last season went out with a sprained ligament in his left knee after opening the scoring with a career-long 57-yard run.
Backup Ameer Abdullah ran 15 times for 81 yards and made an acrobatic catch for an 11-yard TD.
Southern Miss backup quarterback Anthony Alford carried 15 times for 84 yards in his first college game.
The Golden Eagles, with first-year coach Ellis Johnson, scored their first touchdown on Tracy Lampley’s 100-yard kickoff return. They tied it 14-14 on first-time starter Chris Campbell’s 24-yard pass to Dominique Sullivan.
Nebraska’s go-ahead TD came on Martinez’s 9-yard pass to Jake Long.
Nebraska has scored 40 or more points in seven straight openers, and all but one of the wins during their streak have been by double digits.
The last time Southern Miss came to Lincoln (2004), the Eagles left with a 21-17 victory. There was no threat of that happening Saturday.
Martinez came out and showed the result of his offseason work on his passing mechanics. He said his goal was to complete 70 percent of his attempts, and he went out and hit on 26 of 34 (76 percent).
Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck had said throughout fall camp that all signs pointed to his charges being more comfortable in the second year of his spread-option system.
The Huskers looked comfortable and confident early, not to mention dominant. They amassed 205 of their 632 total yards on their first three series with a 50-50 run-pass mix. Nebraska hadn’t gone over 600 yards since 2008 against Kansas State.
Martinez had starred as a runner in his previous two openers, combining for 262 yards and six touchdowns on 26 carries.
Beck didn’t ask him to run much against the Eagles. But the junior threw, usually right on target.
He completed five straight short passes to start, then missed on a throw to Kenny Bell that Deron Wilson nearly intercepted. That was one of Martinez’s few mistakes. In fact, he lofted a beauty of a pass to Bell for a touchdown on the next play.
The past two years fans and media harangued Martinez for his unconventional motion that often had him throwing off his back foot and wildly off the mark.
He hired a personal quarterback coach in the spring and summer and attended the Manning camp in July.
Against Southern Miss, he went through his progressions, set his feet and threw with new-found zip.
The Huskers, who ran for 278 yards, won their 20th straight game in which they rushed for 185.
There was no word on Burkhead’s status for next week’s game at UCLA and beyond. Coach Bo Pelini said Burkhead was “day to day, week to week.”
Burkhead nearly fumbled as he took an inside handoff on the fourth play of the game, tucked the ball under his left arm and took off on a career-long 57-yard run to the end zone.
Quincy Enunwa turned one of his six receptions into a 27-yard catch-and-run before Martinez found Bell for a 26-yard pass that put Nebraska up 14-0.
Lampley caught the kickoff in the end zone, found a giant opening up the middle and easily outran kicker Brett Maher for the second kick return touchdown of his career.
The Eagles tied it on their next possession. Sullivan nearly went down after slipping through cornerback Andrew Green’s grasp, regained his feet and went the final 10 yards to the end zone for his tying TD.
The Huskers went 59 yards in 11 plays to take the lead for good, with Martinez flipping an easy TD pass to Long after drawing in the defense on the play-action fake.
The Golden Eagles, the defending Conference USA Champion, wore down in the second half in the 88-degree heat.
With 364 yards of total offense, Martinez moved past Zac Taylor into second place on the school’s career chart.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Ryan Nassib had a day he’ll want to remember a long time — except for the final score.
Utilizing a new, up-tempo offense that had been kept under wraps through preseason training camp, Nassib was nearly flawless in the second half Saturday against Northwestern. He completed 28 of 39 passes for 311 yards, four for touchdowns, only to watch the Wildcats score in the final minute and pull out a 42-41 victory.
“We just started clicking,” Nassib said. “Unfortunately, it was a little too late.”
Nassib finished 44 of 65 for 470 yards, all school records but little solace to the fifth-year senior after the team’s sixth straight loss dating to last season.
“We’ve got a lot to take from it,” Nassib said. “We’ve got a lot to learn from the game. We did some good things, did some tough things.”
Subbing for banged-up starter Kain Colter in the second half, Trevor Siemian hit Demetrius Fields with a 9-yard touchdown pass with 44 seconds left to spoil a furious rally by the Orange, who had trailed 35-13 midway through the third quarter.
Syracuse has now lost six in a row dating to last season with a date looming next week against top-ranked Southern California at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
“There are a lot of good things out there, and that’s what we are going to focus on,” Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone said. “We feel that we’re going to be a good football team.”
Siemian, 8 of 11 for 78 yards in the game, was 6 of 7 for 62 yards on the winning drive, including a 25-yarder to Fields. He also drew a critical penalty when he was hit out of bounds by Keon Lyn after a 9-yard gain on a third-and-15 play from the Syracuse 27.
“Pretty good in the two-minute,” said Siemian, who guided the Wildcats 75 yards on 10 plays in a decisive drive that took just 1:56. “Obviously, we want to answer and just take it one play at a time. I don’t know if it was a penalty. I was just doing my job.”
Fields made the winning catch on the next play at the out-of-bounds line, streaking to the left corner of the end zone.
“I didn’t know if my foot was in,” said Fields, who had eight catches for 83 yards. “I just trusted my quarterback to get the ball to me.”
Colter was 14 of 21 for 135 yards passing and ran for another 40 yards on 14 carries.
It was the season opener for both teams and Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has yet to lose one in seven tries.
“I liked the way we responded to the adversity that we created for ourselves,” Fitzgerald said. “We have to do a better job of keeping focus and keeping the big things small. We felt with where we were that Trevor gave us a great opportunity to win.”
Nassib had thrown a pretty 20-yard TD to Christopher Clark in the left corner of the end zone with 2:40 left in the game for the go-ahead score, and Prince-Tyson Gulley ran in the two-point conversion to give the Orange a 41-35 lead.
Nassib also hit Marcus Sales for a 7-yard touchdown and combined with Jeremiah Kobena on scores of 50 and 7 yards, the latter with 6:42 left in the fourth to move Syracuse within 35-33.
Syracuse was still in it at halftime despite the heroics of Northwestern star Venric Mark, who scored twice and accumulated 203 all-purpose yards in the first half.
Mark, who rushed for 82 yards, returned three kickoffs for 49 yards, giving him a school-record 1,514. Ricky Edwards held the previous mark of 1,499, set from 1979-83.
The loss continued a downward spiral for the Orange, who posted a 5-2 mark to start last season, then lost their last five games to miss a chance to play in a bowl game for the second straight year.
Syracuse was undone by big plays much like last season, when the Orange allowed 13 touchdown passes of 20 yards or more and six scoring runs of at least 20 yards. They were unable to stop Mark in the first half, and it cost them dearly.
Mark returned a punt 82 yards for a score in the final minute of the first quarter, racing untouched the entire way as he weaved across the field. His 53-yard punt return set up a 14-yard TD pass from Colter to Christian Jones late in the second, giving Northwestern a 21-13 halftime lead.
In between, Mark caught a scoring pass from Colter, easily beating the defender in the left corner of the end zone. That play was set up by a Syracuse turnover. Northwestern linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo intercepted a deflected pass and returned it 44 yards to the Orange 21. Sales had tried to make the catch of Nassib’s low throw and it caromed up to Ariguzo’s waiting hands.
Syracuse was victimized on a short screen pass behind the line of scrimmage on the third play of the third quarter, and it proved critical. Nassib’s throw to Jerome Smith in the left flat was low and behind him and bounced harmlessly away as players on both sides pulled up, thinking the play was over. Ariguzo then picked up the ball, looked around and ran 33 yards into the end zone in a stunning turn.
Mark’s 32-yard run set up Colter’s 1-yard touchdown run, giving the Wildcats what appeared to be a commanding lead midway through the third.
“We’ll take it and use it as motivation,” Syracuse strong safety Shamarko Thomas said. “We have big-time playmakers. We got speed and size. We just need to get it all together.”
PURDUE 48; EASTERN KENTUCKY 6
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Robert Marve passed for a career-high 295 yards and matched a career best with three touchdowns to help Purdue defeat Eastern Kentucky 48-6 on Saturday in both teams’ season opener.
Marve started because previously declared starter Caleb TerBush was suspended one game for violating team rules. He hadn’t thrown three touchdowns since 2008, when he was the starter at Miami.
Akeem Shavers ran for 74 yards and O.J. Ross caught eight passes for 71 yards. Purdue gained 542 yards against coach Danny Hope’s alma mater, where he was the head coach from 2003 to 2007.
The Boilermakers held Football Championship Subdivision foe Eastern Kentucky to 190 yards and 10 first downs and forced four turnovers. Defensive tackle Kawann Short blocked a field goal and an extra point for the fifth and sixth blocked kicks of his career.
Brooklyn Fox led Eastern Kentucky with two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Purdue next plays at Notre Dame on Saturday.
On Purdue’s second possession, Shavers broke down the right sideline for 34 yards. Eastern Kentucky was called for a horse-collar tackle on the play, tacking 15 yards onto the end of the run. Later, Marve rolled right and found Gary Bush in the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown. Khiry Maddox blocked the extra point, and the Boilermakers’ lead remained 6-0.
On Eastern Kentucky’s next possession, safety Landon Feichter intercepted a pass by Jared McClain and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown, pushing Purdue’s lead to 13-0 with 7:51 to go. Kurt Freytag later scored from 7 yards out to push Purdue’s lead to 20-0.
Eastern Kentucky had 9 yards of offense and no first downs in the opening quarter.
Matt Denham broke for a 30-yard touchdown early in the second quarter, but Short blocked the extra point and Purdue led 20-6.
Marve later found Antavian Edison for a 13-yard touchdown, then Shavers broke for an 8-yard touchdown run to give the Boilermakers a 34-6 lead.
Marve hit Gabe Holmes for an 8-yard touchdown pass to increase the lead to 41-6 late in the third quarter.
Rob Henry, who was expected to start last year’s opener but tore his ACL and missed the entire season, threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Justin Sinz with 1:54 remaining.