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December 29, 2007

Nittany Lions prove too much for A&M

Box Score | Game Photos

SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Joe Paterno's 500th game as Penn State coach ended the way most have: with JoePa on top.

Evan Royster broke a tie with a 38-yard touchdown run, Deon Butler caught a debatable 30-yard pass and Penn State erased an early 14-point deficit to beat Texas A&M 24-17 on Saturday night at the Alamo Bowl.

Paterno, college football's leader in bowl appearances (34), led the Nittany Lions (9-4) in a thriller that brought him his record 23rd postseason win. The 81-year-old coach now has 372 career victories, one behind Florida State's Bobby Bowden for the most in major college football.

"It was a good tough game," Paterno said after the game surrounded by jubilant Nittany Lions. "If I had a choice, I'm glad we won."

Penn State's Rodney Kinlaw ran for a game-high 143 yards on 21 carries and Royster finished with 65 on nine carries.

Nervously pacing the sideline in his standard khakis and black sneakers, Paterno couldn't breathe easy until the clock ticked down to zero in a roller coaster of a game.

Texas A&M quarterback Stephen McGee led a 15-play drive to the Penn State 2 before losing 4 yards on fourth-and-goal after slipping on an option play with about eight minutes left.

Another Texas A&M (7-6) drive ended with a punt with 2 minutes left, and Penn State ran out the clock.

The Nittany Lions secured their third straight bowl victory and spoiled Gary Darnell's one-game stint as interim head coach. Darnell took over Nov. 23, when Dennis Franchione resigned, and A&M has hired Mike Sherman, currently offensive coordinator for the Houston Texans, take over as head coach in 2008.

McGee finished 19-of-31 passing for 164 yards and an interception, and ran for 34 yards on 10 carries.

Penn State had scored 17 straight points to take the lead before Matt Szymanski kicked a 38-yard field goal for Texas A&M to tie it at 17 with 3:57 in the third quarter. The 18-play, 78-yard drive took 8:45, the longest drive by plays and time of possession this season for A&M's often beleaguered offense.

The Nittany Lions took the lead for good on the next drive. Quarterback Anthony Morelli connected with Derrick Williams for a 21-yard reception to the Aggie 41 on a third-and-6 before Royster burst up the middle for the decisive score for plays later.

It looked rough early for Penn State after falling behind 14-0 on two touchdown runs in a 12-second span by A&M's Mike Goodson. A sea of maroon-clad fans that made up most of the record crowd of 66,166 at the Alamodome roared its approval in hopes of ending a distraction-filled season a high note.

It wasn't to be, and the Nittany Lions rallied for their ninth win in the their last 11 bowl games. It Penn State's largest comeback win since rallying from 16 points down at Northwestern on Sept. 29, 2005.

Penn State's defense clamped down after Goodson's early runs, and the offense gained traction behind the running of backup quarterback Daryll Clark and tailback Kinlaw and a couple clutch throws from Morelli.

On fourth-and-4 from the A&M 30, Morelli threw a wobbly pass to Butler, who had position inside on cornerback Arkeith Brown. The ball sailed just long of Butler, who fell forward in the end zone and appeared to catch the ball just before it hit the ground. A replay review confirmed the touchdown that cut A&M's lead to 14-7.

Maurice Evans then forced a Goodson fumble on the next drive that was recovered by Penn State's A.J. Wallace. Goodson had 65 yards on 14 carries.

Clark, a seldom-used backup who is known as a better runner than Morelli, then scored from 11 yards out on the next play, scrambling up the middle before leaping head-first into the end zone.

Clark lost the ball at the end of the play, though officials said the fumble didn't count because he had already crossed the goal line.

Morelli's 32-yard completion to Terrell Golden on 3rd-and-20 later helped set up a 25-yard field goal by Kevin Kelly that gave Penn State a 17-14 lead at halftime.


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