NU prevails in Catfight

Tania Ganguli

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Running back Noah Herron powered forward from Penn State’s eight-yard line, on the second drive of the first quarter, where a flurry of bodies enveloped the running back, stopping him short of a touchdown.

The rest of the players advanced to line for the next play, but Herron, whose helmet had cracked into cornerback Anwar Philips’ helmet, stayed down.

Trainers surrounded him and worked to revive him for a few minutes. Penn State’s defense regrouped and sorted out their assignments. The Wildcats on the field did too, but a minute passed, and they glanced in Herron’s direction.

“We all obviously love Noah,” quarterback Brett Basanez said. “He’s a tough kid, I didn’t doubt he would be back.”

Herron came back quickly and led the Cats (5-4, 4-2 Big Ten) to a 14-7 victory over Penn State (2-7, 0-6). It was NU’s first ever win at Beaver Stadium. The Cats wore down a stingy Penn State defense and stifled the Nittany Lions’ offense in front of 100,353 fans.

With the help of an offensive line which played its best game of the season, Herron rushed into sixth place on the Cats’ all-time rushing list with 2,181 career yards.

“The fact that we never won here and the fact that the last time we were here was an embarrassment, we had a pretty large chip on our shoulder,” Herron said.

Running back Terrell Jordan took over while Herron recovered. He scored the touchdown on the play after Herron left the game and gave NU a 7-0 lead.

Herron stood on the sideline in a daze, chatting with trainers for a little more than 10 minutes before he ran back on the field, still not completely aware of what was happening.

He caught a seven-yard pass and ran the ball a few times for short yardage through the middle of the second quarter until he snapped back into full consciousness.

“The doctor asked me, and I said I’m fine and I just went in,” Herron said. “I really didn’t give him a chance to do his job. I didn’t get a headache until the end of the game. It was kind of like I was sleeping and I just woke up and I was like ‘Man I’m here, what’s going on?'”

Around that time the offensive line created a hole as big as Beaver Stadium which Herron burst through for his longest run of the game.

He ran untouched for 25 yards, and five more with Penn State safety Jim Kanuch latched on to his jersey before cornerback Alan Zemaitis finally stopped him.

What started as a battle between two running games turned into a one-sided contest as NU’s offense began to control Penn State’s vaunted defense which still has not allowed more than 21 points this season.

Although several receivers stepped up to pick up for injured wideout Mark Philmore, NU coach Randy Walker said gusty winds and the injury led to a more conservative game plan.

“Once you get defense rolling like that, it’s just a testament to how good shape we’re in,” offensive guard Zach Strief said. “It’s a lot of weight up there on the front line, we got a big back that takes a lot of guys out to tackle, we don’t get tired.

“It’s just a great feeling to be able to drive the ball like that.”

Penn State’s defense created several opportunities for its offense, including safety Paul Cronin’s second quarter interception.

Cronin’s pick was the one chance the Nittany Lions capitalized on, as it lead to their only touchdown and tied the game.

“I was going for the comeback and he kind of read my eyes,” Basanez said. “I flat didn’t see him until I let it go, by that time it was too late.”

But the Nittany Lions offense didn’t capitalize on several other opportunities.

Penn State’s defense garnered four three-and-out stops, sacked Basanez once, blocked a field goal, and caused two NU fumbles on special teams.

The Cats marched down the field for the winning score with a 13-play, 83-yard drive. Herron capped it off with a one-yard plunge into the end zone.

The Cats’ defense, led by decorated linebacker Tim McGarigle, could sense the Nittany Lions’ frustration on offense.

Penn State receiver Michael Robinson complained to the officials about not getting pass interference calls. Robinson caught four passes for 63 yards.

Penn State’s best chance was with the ball in tailback Tony Hunt’s hands. Hunt was the Nittany Lions leading receiver and rusher with 170 all-purpose yards.

As the Cats chipped away at Penn State’s hopes, Hunt kept them somewhat alive with several scrambles for first downs.

But NU wouldn’t let the Nittany Lions finish and get their first Big Ten win of the 2004 season.

“They kind of remind me of us last year,” Basanez said. “They just need to put it together and kind of want to be out there.”

Reach Tania Ganguli at [email protected].