(Saturday, November 12th)
Final Score: (19) Nebraska 17, (12) Penn State 14
University Park, PA (Sports Network) - In the midst of everything, a game.
What began Saturday with dozens of players from both teams kneeling in silent prayer at midfield, ended with Penn State losing on a luminous afternoon that was sunny if only for the weather until a spirited comeback attempt that fell short.
In between, the implausible task of playing football in unimaginable turmoil.
Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah rushed for touchdowns, leading No. 19 Nebraska to a 17-14 victory over No. 12 Penn State, which played its first game in 46 years without Joe Paterno as head coach as it deals with an ongoing sex-abuse scandal that has blackened the university's once sterling reputation.
"The whole thing was emotional," said Tom Bradley, the veteran Nittany Lions defensive coordinator who was named interim head coach after Paterno's firing on Wednesday.
The loss came a week after Jerry Sandusky, the longtime Paterno assistant, was arrested and charged with 40 counts of sexual crimes against young boys.
Four others have lost at least immediate control of their jobs in the scandal, including ousted university president Graham Spanier and wide receivers coach Mike McQueary, and Penn State's campus has both rioted and held a candlelight vigil for the alleged victims.
Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini was among those who thought, given everything that happened, that the game shouldn't have been played. Afterward, he said it gave everyone a bit of perspective.
"This game gave us an opportunity to show that the situation going on is bigger than football. It is bigger than the football game that was just played. It is bigger than the young men that played in the game that would have missed it, had they called it off," Pelini said.
"It's about education and putting things into perspective what the situation is all about. Hopefully, the fact that both teams sat up and prayed together put that in perspective a little bit. It's about doing what's right in society. It's about doing what's right and wrong.
"Trust me, when I tell you, I don't know the specifics of the situation and I am not judging anybody. But the fact is young kids were hurt and that's a crime in itself. Like I said, it is a lot bigger than football, the NCAA, the Big Ten and anything else."
After everything, Penn State faced a 17-0 deficit as it tried to stay unbeaten in conference play. The Nittany Lions cut it to three points on two touchdown runs by Stephfon Green in the third and fourth quarters.
Silas Redd was stood up at the line on a 4th-and-1 attempt inside two minutes, but the Nittany Lions got the ball back again after stopping Burkhead on a 4th-and-2.
However, Nebraska (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) held on in the final 49 seconds as Penn State (8-2, 5-1) was left without a timeout and failed to extend its seven- game winning streak.
Bradley, the first new Nittany Lions head coach since 1966, said he wished the team could have pulled out a little magic at the end to get a win on Senior Day.
"They didn't quit. They hung tough and hung in there together," he said after the team's final home game. "I asked them to show class and dignity, and they did all day today."
Paterno's son, Jay, was on the sideline as quarterbacks coach Saturday while his father remained at home.
Rather than step aside during the scandal, Joe Paterno wanted to retire at the end of the season but was fired by the board of trustees instead, leaving with a 409-136-3 record and big coaching shoes to fill.
In Penn State's last game on October 29, Paterno passed late Grambling State coach Eddie Robinson for the most coaching wins in Division I history.
So much mattered more this week, of course, but Paterno's first game away in nearly a half-century was a big one: With a win, the Nittany Lions could have clinched no worse than a tie for the Big Ten Leaders Division title.
Matt McGloin played the whole game for the first time this season and passed for 193 yards, but also coughed up a fumble in the third quarter that led to a Nebraska touchdown for a 17-0 lead. Green rushed for 71.
Anthony Fera was wide right on a 47-yard field goal in the first quarter, a costly miss for Penn State in what turned out to be a three-point game.
Taylor Martinez threw for 143 yards for Nebraska, which was coming off an upset loss to Northwestern last week, and Burkhead rushed for 121.
The Cornhuskers scored 10 points in the second quarter on Brett Maher's 41- yard field goal and Abdullah's two-yard touchdown surge to take the halftime lead.
McGloin's fumble on the sixth play of a drive in the third quarter was picked up by Nebraska near midfield.
Eight snaps later, Martinez was in trouble as he scrambled right until he flipped to Burkhead near the sideline, and Burkhead barreled into the end zone for a 14-yard score and a 17-0 lead.
Penn State replied with its best drive so far, a nine-play effort spanning 82 yards and ending with Green's five-yard run through the line for a touchdown.
Martinez fumbled 5 1/2 minutes into the fourth quarter, giving Penn State the ball at midfield. The Nittany Lions converted a 4th-and-1, then set up their touchdown with an inspired trick play.
After taking the snap, McGloin tossed to Green and broke for the left sideline. Green flipped to wide receiver Curtis Drake, who hit McGloin for a 16-yard pass on the left side.
On the next play, Green rushed the remaining six yards for a touchdown to pull Penn State within 17-14.
Penn State's last two regular season games are on the road against Ohio State and Wisconsin. New Penn State president Rodney Erickson said Saturday there's no reason the team shouldn't be allowed to play in a bowl game...Nebraska evened the all-time series 7-7. It was the first meeting between the teams since 2003 and first as Big Ten foes.
11/12 19:12:13 ET