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Nittany Lions clinch Big Ten title with win

November 21, 2005
Junior quarterback Drew Stanton gets hit by Penn State Linebacker Tim Shaw (20) and Chris Harrell (27) while making a run in the first half against the Nittany Lions. Stanton ran for a season high 81 yards in the 31-22 loss.

Senior offensive guard Gordon Niebylski just stood there, bewildered, tears welling up. He didn't want to leave.

But he had to.

He was surrounded by blue and white, as Penn State had just clinched a share of the Big Ten title.

As he was heading into the tunnel, Niebylski turned around to give the field one last look before walking down the tunnel one last time.

The Spartans' goal to send the seniors out as winners didn't happen, as the Spartans were rolled, 31-22, by Penn State on Saturday.

"It's a sad day for me," Niebylski said. "It's my last game in Spartan Stadium as a player. It was the last time walking off the field, running out of the tunnel and that's always going to be, especially that my college career is done.

"I'm sad I had to go out like this, but at the same time, next year, I think they're going to have a great team and there's going to be great things for the Spartans for years to come."

Nearly 25 minutes after the end of the game, chants of "We are Penn State" continued to permeate the trailer where MSU head coach John L. Smith was holding his post-game press conference, a fitting end to a season which went downhill so quickly.

"It's a sad day in our locker room," Smith said. "It's not necessarily sad because of the loss, it's just sad because of the seniors and I apologized to the seniors. I certainly hoped that we could've sent them out as winners, which we didn't get done."

MSU came out and played with the emotion that had been lacking the past month, but was never able to overcome a more-talented Nittany Lions squad.

"We fought hard to the very end and you can't ask for more than that," senior wide receiver Kyle Brown said.

The Spartans' defense held strong through the first quarter, holding Penn State to just a field goal.

The recurring theme of MSU's season — special teams' blunders — continued in the second quarter when Penn State's Donnie Johnson blocked junior Brandon Fields' punt, which was recovered in the end zone by Matt Hahn for a touchdown, giving the Nittany Lions a 10-0 edge.

"We practiced that all week long," Smith said. "The exact look. It's nothing more than 'Here's your assignment: Count from the outside-in, you have to block No. 2.'"

After the Spartans went three-and-out on their next drive, Penn State carved up MSU's defense, with quarterback Michael Robinson completing a 22-yard pass to running back Tony Hunt and then Robinson taking over and running 33 yards into the end zone for a backbreaking touchdown.

MSU wouldn't let it get them down, though, as they moved down the field as the half wound down. But junior quarterback Drew Stanton was intercepted by Johnson in the end zone, ending the promising drive. It was Stanton's second of four interceptions on the day.

Smith admitted after the game that Stanton has been playing with a bone chip in his throwing hand since MSU's 28-21 loss to Purdue two weeks ago.

"Maybe we'll have to fix that," Smith said. "But Drew will go out there and play no matter what."

The Spartans came roaring out of the locker room in the second half, driving the ball down the field in eight plays. The drive was capped off by senior running back Jason Teague's 25-yard touchdown run, the longest run of any kind against Penn State this season.

After a 4-yard touchdown run by junior wide receiver Jerramy Scott brought MSU within 10 points, 24-14, the Spartans looked to freshman Matt Haughey for his second field goal attempt, but the snap was bobbled by Fields and the try never made it off the ground.

"We had a couple drives that we needed to finish," Scott said.

Penn State took advantage and promptly stormed down the field, scoring on a 1-yard run by Hunt.

MSU got a 15-yard touchdown pass from Stanton to junior wide receiver Kerry Reed and the two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 31-22, but couldn't recover the onside kick.

"I think it was a testament to us in the second half when we could've laid down at 17-0 at halftime," Niebylski said. "We just didn't get the breaks today."

All that was left was for Robinson to take a knee, sending the Penn State contingent of fans into a frenzy. The players celebrated their conference title in the end zone with the fans, donning brand new "Big Ten Champions" hats and leaving the Spartans walking away in disbelief.

"The guys coming back have to realize what it takes for us to be successful around here," Stanton said. "There's a fine line between winning and losing."

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