Penn State Football’s Home Games of the Decades

With the last year of this decade upon us and another football season rapidly approaching (although to college football fans, not rapidly enough), this gives us an opportunity to consider which Penn State home game at Beaver Stadium is the reigning game of the decade going into 2019. While we’re at it, what home games were the game of the decade for the past four decades as well?

Working in chronological order, we’ll begin with the ‘70s. The choice goes to: 1978 Penn State 17 Pitt 10. In the midst of the zenith of this Eastern-football rivalry, 15th-ranked Pitt came in looking to knock off #1-ranked Penn State that had national championship aspirations and a date with #2 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day.

In a cold, swirling wind Penn State would come back from a 10-7 deficit and score 10 points in the fourth quarter breaking a 10-10 tie with Mike Guman scoring on a two-yard run on fourth and two and the Nittany Lions would remain ranked number one in the country and undefeated with an 11-0 record. Penn State’s defense held Pitt to 181 yards of total offense on the day. It was the first time the Nittany Lions finished the regular season ranked number one.

Honorable Mention: 1973 Penn State 35 North Carolina State 29. The sixth-ranked Nittany Lions trailed 14-9 at halftime, but Penn State would hold off the upset-minded Wolfpack and hang on for a 35-29 victory largely on the legs of John Cappelletti who carried the ball 41 times for 220 yards.  Cappelletti’s third rushing touchdown of the day midway in the fourth quarter broke a 29-29 tie to keep the Nittany Lions undefeated.

The ‘80s: 1982 Penn State 27 Nebraska 24: In one of the most memorable games in Beaver Stadium history, this game had everything: two outstanding top 10 teams with back and forth action, a last- minute comeback and controversy.

Nebraska came into Happy Valley ranked number two in the country with Penn State ranked eighth and portable lights were brought in for the game could be televised nationally. The Nittany Lions jumped out to a 14-0 lead on two second-quarter drives. Nebraska’s high-powered offense couldn’t be denied with stars such as Turner Gill, Mike Rozier, Roger Craig and Irving Fryar and Gill scored on a one-yard run to give the Cornhuskers a 24-21 lead with only 1:18 left in the game.

Quarterback Todd Blackledge led the Nittany Lions with a 65-yard scoring drive in the final minute of play. With only 13 seconds left Blackledge hit tight end Mike McCluskey with a pass to the two-yard line that appeared to be out of bounds. On the following play, Blackledge hit tight end Kirk “Stonehands” Bowman in the end zone with four seconds left to give Penn State a dramatic come-from-behind victory.

Honorable Mention: 1982 Penn State 19 Pitt 10: Curt Warner rushes for 118 yards on 22 carries in a come from behind win for the second-ranked Nittany Lions against fifth-ranked Pitt and ensured themselves a shot at the national championship against number-one ranked Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

The ‘90s: 1997 Penn State 31 Ohio State 27. In a heavyweight battle of two top 10 teams, it was number two Penn State against seventh-ranked Ohio State and the game lived up to its billing. In a game of big plays where neither team ever led by more than 10 points, none was bigger than Curtis Enis’ 27-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to put the Lions ahead to stay. Enis would run for 211 yards on 23 carries against the Buckeyes.

Honorable Mention: 1995 Ohio State 28 Penn State 25. This game made ESPN Classic as 12th-ranked Penn State jumped out to a 10-0 first quarter lead over the fifth-ranked Buckeyes. Ohio State would respond with 21 unanswered points to lead 21-10 in the third quarter.

Penn State quarterback Wally Richardson would bring the Nittany Lions back putting them in front 25-21 in the fourth quarter. Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George would provide the winning margin on a six-yard run with only 1:42 remaining in the fourth quarter. George would rush for 105 yards on 24 carries but was bested by Penn State’s Curtis Enis’ 146 yards on 25 carries in a losing effort.

The ‘00s: 2005 Penn State 17 Ohio State 10: Led by a Whiteout Student Section and Zombie Nation over the loudspeakers and with 109,839 in attendance, Beaver Stadium rocked like it never did before. With GameDay on hand, this game showed that Penn State was back with an upset victory over sixth-ranked Ohio State.

With only 1:21 left in the game and Ohio State on Penn State’s 45-yard line, Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith was sacked by Tamba Hali, and fumbled that was recovered by Scott Paxson that ended the last hope for Ohio State. The image of Tamba Hali sacking Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith is one of Penn State-Ohio State lore. Linebacker Paul Posluszny was a heat-seeking missile registering 14 tackles on the night.

Honorable Mention: 2001 Penn State 29 Ohio State 27: Down 18-0 in the third quarter, Penn State freshman quarterback Zach Mills took off bouncing off Ohio State defenders on his way to a 68-yard touchdown run. Mills’ run ignited a comeback as he would throw for two touchdown passes as well.

Defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy blocked Ohio State’s 32-yard field goal attempt with under three minutes remaining in the game and the victory was Joe Paterno’s 324th making him the all-time winningest head coach in Division I football history surpassing Bear Bryant.

The ’10s: 2016 Ohio State @ Penn State. In front of a night-White Out crowd of 107,280 fans, this game propelled Penn State towards a Big 10 championship in defeating number two-ranked Ohio State. The Buckeyes came into the game as 20-point favorites.

Penn State battled back from a 21-7 deficit at the start of the fourth quarter and with less than five minutes to play, Marcus Allen blocked an Ohio State field goal attempt and Grant Haley picked up the football and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown to give the Nittany Lions a 24-21 lead that they never relinquished. As time expired, the white out in the stands descended upon the playing surface as thousands of fans celebrated the upset victory.

Honorable Mention: 2013 Michigan @ Penn State 43-40 In one of the most thrilling games in Beaver Stadium history and the longest game, a four-overtime affair in which saw the Nittany Lions come back from a 34-24 deficit in the fourth quarter in front of 107,884 fans.

In a game known for Penn State’s version of “The Catch,” a leaping grab by Allen Robinson on a 36-yard pass from freshman Christian Hackenberg to the one-yard line with less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter. Hackenberg’s subsequent one-yard touchdown run and Sam Ficken’s extra point tied the game at 34-all with only 17 seconds left on the game clock.

Finally, in the fourth overtime and trailing 40-37, Coach Bill O’Brien eschewed kicking a field goal to tie the game gambling on fourth-and-one and Bill Belton ran for three yards and a game-extending first down. Two plays later, Belton scored from two yards out to give the Nittany Lions a dramatic win. The teams were so evenly matched that Penn State gained 390 yards of total offense to Michigan’s 389.

Will this year’s Michigan White Out game provide another thriller? It would take quite a game to be considered one of the best games of this decade at Beaver Stadium.

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:

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