Oct. 6, 2012
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Site: University Park, Pa. (Beaver Stadium)
Score: Penn State 39, No. 24 Northwestern 28
Records: NU (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten), Penn State (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten)
Next NU Game: Saturday, Oct. 13 at Minnesota 11 a.m. CT Minneapolis, Min.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- For the second-straight meeting in Happy Valley, Northwestern staked itself to a double-digit lead against Penn State only to see the Nittany Lions storm back for a victory, this time handing NU its first loss of 2012 with a 39-28 decision.
NU entered the game ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press poll and No. 22 in the Coaches Poll. In 2010, Northwestern opened a 21-0 lead on Penn State before falling 35-21.
Penn State held possession of the ball for all but six offensive plays in the first quarter but managed to come away with only three points. The Nittany Lions converted a pair of fourth-down opportunities and ultimately set up a 21-yard field goal by Sam Ficken to take the lead.
Northwestern, meanwhile, began their first four offensive drives on their own 1, 21, 15 and 8-yard line, respectively, and were forced into three-and-outs each time. Penn State added to their lead after beginning its drive at NU's 40-yard line and eventually punching in a 1-yard touchdown rush by Zach Zwinak with 9:34 left before halftime.
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Northwestern was the beneficiary of a Penn State miscue following its next series, when a Wildcats punt was dropped by the PSU receiver. Redshirt freshman Nick VanHoose was right there to scoop up the loose ball, giving NU possession at the hosts' 17-yard line. Three plays later, Venric Mark took an option pitch and covered the two yards to the end zone for NU's first score of the day and its 14th straight rushing TD dating to its week-two matchup with Vanderbilt.
The Wildcats defense continued to give the Nittany Lions fits, forcing a three-and-out before stopping Penn State on fourth down at the NU 34-yard line later in the quarter.
That was where NU started on its go-ahead scoring drive, with Siemian moving the Wildcats into the red zone with back-to-back completions to Mike Trumpy and a 13-yard hit to Demetrius Fields. Siemian then found Tony Jones across the middle of the end zone, threading the needle and giving Jones the chance to make a great grab for his first touchdown since Oct. 2, 2010.
Northwestern's 14-10 lead represented the fourth consecutive meeting in which the Wildcats led the Nittany Lions at the intermission.
Penn State regained the lead with a 12-play drive on its first chance of the second half, getting in the end zone with an 8-yard pass from Matt McGloin to Allen Robinson with 7:17 to go in the third quarter.
But Northwestern roared right back on its next possession, with Siemian and Mark keying a 71-yard touchdown drive. With NU facing third-and-15 following a red-zone holding call, Siemian found green space and darted 14 yards to set up a third-and-1. On the next play, Colter executed the zone read to perfection and darted 10 yards around the left end to put Northwestern ahead, 21-17.
After a defensive stand by NU, Mark did what he does best when he fielded a deep Penn State punt, exploded through the first line of coverage and took it 75 yards to the house. The score put NU ahead 28-17 and made Mark only the second Wildcat in history to notch two punt returns in the same season, joining Tom Worthington in 1949.
Penn State refused to quit, however, and assembled an 18-play, 82-yard scoring drive to return it to a one-score game. McGloin found Robinson for a touchdown for the second time on the afternoon, a 6-yard pass that was followed by a successful two-point conversion to set the score at 28-25 Northwestern with 9:49 remaining.
The Wildcats were forced into a three-and-out, but a 64-yard punt by Brandon Williams put the hosts back on their own 15-yard line to begin their drive. The Nittany Lions drove right now the field and re-took a 32-28 lead with 2:37 to play on a quarterback rollout.
After Northwestern turned the ball over on downs, PSU punched the ball in again to put the game away, 39-28. The Nittany Lions finished with a 39:17-20:43 advantage in time of possession for the afternoon.
Northwestern remains on the road next week when it plays its first Legends Division matchup of the Big Ten season, traveling north to face Minnesota in TCF Bank Stadium. Start time is set for 11 a.m. CT with the live national broadcast being carried on either ESPN or ESPN2.
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