Football Loses Controversial Game at Nebraska

Story posted November 11, 2012 in CommRadio, Sports by Eric DeBerardinis

A historic match-up lacked the faces and names that made it memorable, but included the controversy of years past. Penn State (6-4, 4-2 Big Ten) suffered a 32-23 loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) in its final road game of 2012 that will be defined by one questionable call. An apparent touchdown that was ruled a fumble highlighted a dismal second half for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State continued their first-quarter dominance with a quick score on their first drive of the game. A third-down conversion placed the Penn State offense at midfield, setting up a 50-yard touchdown scamper up the middle by running back Zach Zwinak.

The Nittany Lions have rarely surrendered first quarter points, but Nebraska was an  opponent that featured a high-powered offense, ranked near the top of every statistical category in the Big Ten. However, for much of the first half, Penn State kept the Cornhusker offense in check.

Nebraska drove down the field on their first possession before being halted inside the 10-yard-line. The Cornhuskers were forced to settle for a field goal.

With both teams on the board, quarterback Matt McGloin again led his offense up the field, but first-drive hero, Zwinak, fumbled in the redzone. Nebraska capitalized off the turnover, driving again inside the 10. A stout red-zone defense prevented a touchdown, and forced another short field goal from Nebraska kicker, Brett Maher.

Penn State’s next score came from the foot of Sam Ficken, who connected on a 27-yard field goal, extending their lead to 10-6. Special teams proved to be a factor for the remainder of the half. A muffed punt by Nebraska was recovered by Mike Hull, and resulted in great field position for the Nittany Lions. Penn State cashed in on the turnover, when a few plays later, McGloin found tight end, Jesse James for a ten-yard touchdown pass.

Nebraska failed to pick up anything on the following drive, which ended in another special teams miscue. A punt from Maher wobbled its way just 16 yards down the field. Despite a 15-yard-penalty for sideline interference, Penn State still began with good field position. A drive featuring the fast-paced NASCAR offense stalled, but points were salvaged by Ficken, who nailed a 38 yarder.

Penn State took a 20-6 lead into halftime, extending their first-half advantage to a tally of 157-39 on the season.  

Halftime adjustments again plagued the Nittany Lions. The trouble for Penn State began shortly after the teams emerged from the Memorial Stadium tunnel for the second time. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez displayed his vast improvement from last season attacking the Nittany Lions defense both through the air and on the ground. A 21-yard run from Martinez put Nebraska on the one, and running back Imani Cross plowed into the endzone on the following play. The dual-threat Martinez finished the day with 171 yards passing and 104 yards rushing.

Turnovers are never good. Penn State, however, had turnovers in the worst of places on Saturday. Just a few plays after Penn State got the ball back, Matt McGloin threw a costly interception in his own territory, which Nebraska returned to the Penn State four-yard line. Cross scored two plays later and with the extra point from Maher, the score was quickly evened less than five minutes into the second half.

Battling adversity as they have all season long, Penn State again re-gained the lead. Labeled inaccurate just weeks ago, the suddenly accurate Ficken, knocked a go-ahead attempt from 35 out, his sixth consecutive successful field goal.

On the ensuing drive, Nebraska threatened to take the lead for the first time in the game, but Mike Mauti refused to relinquish to go behind. The standout linebacker forced a Taylor Martinez fumble giving Penn State the ball back after it was recovered in the endzone. Penn State entered the game’s final quarter leading 23-20.

The lead could not be kept though, as Nebraska scored after a flailing Penn State offense was forced to punt. A five-yard touchdown pass from Martinez to Jamal Turner capped a dominating Cornhusker drive.

Hope was restored momentarily for Penn State as they entered the redzone with an attempt to go back on top. A facemask penalty extended a Nittany Lion drive. Next up was a play that will be topic of talk-show banter and enter Penn State-Nebraska lore.

McGloin completed a pass to tight end Matt Lehman who rumbled towards the goal-line, and attempted to stretch out before the score. However, just before crossing the plane, the ball was knocked out of Lehman’s hands and into the endzone, before being recovered by the Cornhuskers. Video replay seemed to conclude that Lehman had indeed scored a touchdown, but officials deemed the ruling on the field to stand.

Penn State’s defense responded and forced a punt. Maher, who shanked one earlier, sent a booming then rolling kick 69 yards down to the Penn State two-yard line. Two plays later, Matt McGloin was called for intentional grounding in the endzone. A safety was called and the game was essentially over. Nebraska tacked on a last-second field goal to win 32-23.

The safety was the culmination of McGloin’s second half struggles. McGloin struggled against the best passing defense in the county, completing just 18 of 37 passes.

Zach Zwinak eclipsed the hundred yard mark yet again, gaining a career-high 141 yards on the ground. Bill Belton entered the game at running back for one series and tallied one carry for negative yardage. Allen Robinson led all receivers with 6 catches for 97 yards.

Tight end Kyle Carter and safety Malcolm Willis both left the game with injuries. Carter will be out for the season with a dislocated wrist, according to O'Brien.

Penn State will host the Indiana Hoosiers (4-6, 2-4 Big Ten) at Beaver Stadium next Saturday. You can hear ComRadio’s coverage beginning at 11 a.m. Tune in at

Eric DeBerardinis is a junior majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him, e-mail