STATE COLLEGE — When Saturday’s bizarre game finally ended, Illinois players celebrated and danced in the middle of the Beaver Stadium field.
Penn State players, meanwhile, appeared stunned. Jaquan Brisker, Joey Porter Jr. and other defensive players sat on the ground trying to come to grips with their 20-18 loss in the first nine-overtime football game in NCAA history.
“Yeah, it was crazy, man,” defensive end Nick Tarburton said. “It was a lot of back and forths and switching momentum, stuff like that. It was a roller coaster. But they got the win. Hats off to them.”
Illinois backup quarterback Brandon Peters found wide receiver Casey Washington in the end zone for the game-winning two points, finally ending the 4-hour, 10-minute marathon and handing a crushing loss to the Nittany Lions (2-2 Big Ten, 5-2).
“A loss is a loss,” wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith said. “We didn’t get it done today. It sucks. We’re going to regroup Sunday and get ready for O-State (Ohio State).”
Illinois (2-3, 3-5) stopped Penn State on its earlier try in the ninth overtime when linebacker Khlan Tolson broke up Sean Clifford’s pass to Parker Washington in the end zone.
The Lions, who were 23-point favorites, had two chances to win in overtime. After Jordan Stout kicked a 31-yard field goal in the first OT, Brisker dropped a potential interception on a pass from Casey Washington to quarterback Artur Sitkowski.
In the third OT, when both teams started from the 3-yard line under a new NCAA rule, Clifford dropped a pass from tight end Tyler Warren with no one between him and the end zone.
“It was a good call,” Clifford said. “I got my head around. The ball was just on me really quick, so I couldn’t really adjust. We still have to make those types of plays, especially at the end of a game like this.”
Illinois and Penn State first reached the end zone in overtime in the eighth period, Peters throwing a short pass to Isaiah Williams for the Illini and Noah Cain scoring on a tying 3-yard run.
“We were struggling on offense all day long,” Lions coach James Franklin said. “Those same issues showed up (in overtime). We didn’t get the job done.
“There were plenty of plays and plenty of opportunities for us to end it. We did not make plays when we had opportunities to do it.”
Illinois outplayed Penn State, rolling up a 395-227 advantage in total yards and rushing for 357 yards, the seventh-most allowed by the Lions in their history. Chase Brown rushed 33 times for 223 yards and one touchdown before he left in the second OT with an injury. Josh McCray carried 24 times for 142 yards.
Penn State, which had been allowing 111.3 rushing yards per game, clearly missed nose tackle PJ Mustipher, who suffered a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago.
“They’re a very well-coached team,” defensive tackle Derrick Tangelo said about Illinois. “We knew they were going to come in here and give us their best shot coming off a bye week.”
The Lions also had a bye last week, during which they tried to figure out their quarterback situation. Clifford suffered an unspecified injury and left the game at Iowa. He split practice time with backups Ta’Quan Roberson and Christian Veilleux.
But it was very clear that Clifford was not close to his best physically. He was not mobile in the pocket and carried five times, four sacks and another loss when he slid to avoid a tackle.
He completed 19-of-34 passes for 165 yards and a 42-yard touchdown pass to Lambert-Smith in the first quarter.
Clifford denied that he was limited in what he could do. Franklin said otherwise.
“We had to be smart,” Franklin said. “He was limited today. That’s why we tried to mix the run and the pass to take some of that off him. Obviously, it’s (his mobility) a big part of his game that he didn’t have today.”
Franklin was also asked if he considered replacing Clifford with Roberson.
“We felt like Sean gave us the best opportunity (to win),” Franklin said.
With Clifford ailing, Penn State couldn’t generate much in the running game. The Lions picked up just 62 yards on 29 attempts. Overall, they gained only 84 yards after halftime, including the nine overtimes.
“I think the combination of guys that did not practice, a wet day, the threat of the pass not being there and a limited Sean, all of it factored in,” Franklin said. “You have to be able to be balanced and we weren’t able to do that today.”
The Big Ten officiating crew took two Illinois touchdowns off the board on one possession in the fourth quarter before James McCourt kicked a 37-yard field goal to tie it 10-10.
The officials also took a Penn State touchdown off the board after Brisker recovered Brown’s fumble in the end zone in the first quarter. The referee signaled a touchdown, but the officials said the play had been stopped. It was not reviewable.
“They ruled it a touchdown,” Brisker said. “Then they called it dead once the whole defense was on the sideline. So I don’t really know what happened there.”
The defense forced three turnovers that Penn State turned into just three points. It was a bitter defeat and perhaps the worst in Franklin’s eight seasons with the Lions.
“We’ve got to stay together,” Tarburton said. “That’s first and foremost. I think we’re built for this type of adversity. We’ve handled adversity like this many times since I’ve been here.
“We have to stay away from the outside noise and stay together.”
Source: Berkshire mont