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Penn State loses first game without Paterno

Penn State fans spell out “For the Kids” during their football game Saturday against Nebraska. (Associated Press)
Penn State fans spell out “For the Kids” during their football game Saturday against Nebraska. (Associated Press)

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – If they didn’t know better, fans in Happy Valley would have thought they were watching Joe Paterno’s team.

No. 12 Penn State played tough defense and basic offense. The Nittany Lions fought back when they were down, trying to rally from a 17-point deficit against No. 19 Nebraska on Saturday.

But on a day when the outcome was secondary, Penn State began the journey forward from a devastating scandal and the firing of Paterno with a draining loss, 17-14 to the Cornhuskers.

The game closed a tumultuous week that began with the arrest of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky on shocking child sexual abuse charges. Major college football’s winningest coach was pushed out in the aftermath.

“I was awful proud,” said interim coach Tom Bradley, who took over for the 84-year-old Paterno. “They got down 17-0. They didn’t quit. They hung tough.”

No one would have blamed the Nittany Lions (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) if they decided to pack it in. But they didn’t.

Time expired after a fourth-down pass by Matt McGloin fell harmlessly to the ground. McGloin and his teammates soon turned toward the tunnel to file back to the locker room. Most were silent. Some had blank stares.

Afterward, linebacker Nate Stupar was heartened the team ended up following Paterno’s advice.

“(Bradley) kept saying, ‘Beat Nebraska. Do what JoePa said, ” said Stupar, who had a team-high 13 tackles. “Be a team and you’ll be teammates for life and just keep that goal in mind. No matter what, stick together. That’s what we did today.”

Rex Burkhead ran for 121 yards and a touchdown for Nebraska (8-2, 4-2) before the Nittany Lions scored 14 points on two second-half touchdown runs by Stephfon Green. But a key drive ended when Silas Redd was stopped on the fourth down with 1:49 left at the Penn State 38.

School president Rod Erickson said he met the players in the locker room afterward and praised, “how much courage, how much heart, and how much character” they had.