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Paterno emerges as winner in game for the ages

Penn State outlasts Florida State 26-23 in Orange Bowl thriller

Paterno emerges as winner in game for the ages

So did you feel as old as Bobby Bowden's 76 years as Tuesday night waded into Wednesday morning?

Or as young as Joe Paterno's 79 years?

Either way, what went in as a FedEx Orange Bowl of the aged came out as a game for the ages.

What a game. What a night. What a 26-23 win for Penn State. And what a way for the game's two winningest coaches to meet for probably the final time, with point matching point and punch matching punch, through the nail-biting end of regulation right to the third overtime.

There was the drama of Florida State kicker Gary Cismesia kicking a 48-yard field goal with about four minutes left to tie it at 16. There was more drama when Penn State missed a 29-yard field goal at the end of regulation to win it.

Both teams missed field goals in the first overtime. And both scored touchdowns in the second overtime.

In the third overtime, with FSU getting the ball first, Cismesia hit the right upright on a 38-yard field goal, the ball bouncing back on the field.

Kevin Kelly, who had missed two potential winning field goals, then hit a 29-yarder for the winner.

"I'm delighted and proud that we won it, but I'm very humble, very humble," said Paterno, who by all accounts had treated the week leading up to the Orange Bowl as one long grumpfest, seemingly unhappy about pretty much everything.

But after the game, Paterno said the result came down to one play, either play. One play and it could have been different.

"But we got it and I'm taking it," the old man said, and the Penn State people in the crowd at Dolphins Stadium cheered.

Nittany Lions revived

After enduring four losing seasons in the last five years, the 11-1 Nittany Lions ended this year with their best mark since the 1994 Rose Bowl champions went 12-0.

This one had everything. Thrills. Drama. Football joy and pain. There was real pain, too, the kind that sobers the intoxicating fun and reminds you of the kids involved.

Penn State's Paul Posluszny, the winner of the Butkus Award as the top collegiate linebacker, crumpled on the grass in the fourth quarter, holding his knee, a few minutes from collecting millions of NFL dollars if he wanted.

Think Melvin Bratton. Think Willis McGahee. Penn State fans had to think that, dressed in white shirts by the thousands, looking like snowflakes around Dolphins Stadium. Posluszny was carted to the locker room. Then, with less than four minutes left, he rode the cart back to behind the Penn State bench.

He couldn't turn away. No one could. Bowden and Paterno have their roots in another generation's game, one dictated by defense and field position. That was Tuesday's sepia-toned storyline.

The two teams didn't assemble a first down in the third quarter until Penn State's penalty-aided one with 72 seconds left.

The teams combined for 20 punts.

Penn State, on first-and-goal, could have cemented the game in the fourth quarter, but fumbled a snap exchange instead and Florida State's Neefy Moffett recovered.

Until that point, Florida State's second-half possessions had gone as follows: 5, 3, 5, 8 and 1 yards. You could hear the kindling wood warming up under offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden.

Then it notched its initial first down of the second half with only 8:17 left in the game. Then another. And another. Suddenly, it was celebrating the potential game-winner, at least until Penn State lined up for its 29-yarder.

Suddenly, dramatically, the game turned from there, and kept turning until it ended in the third overtime in a Penn State celebration.

Paterno ends all questions of his aging with an 11-1 season.

Bowden, strangely after such a classic game, will face his now. Florida State's record goes down as 8-5, no matter how thrilling it went down Tuesday night.

"We both have reached the age which when the first time something goes wrong, they say 'He's too old'" Bowden said this week. "I think Penn State did the right thing staying with (Paterno) and his experience and maturity.

Maturity won out. Barely.

The two aged coaches gave one for all ages.

Updated : 2021-06-25 18:20 GMT+08:00