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Penn St. football takes first step

A time to remember, a time to heal Penn State and Nebraska players gather at midfield for a prayer before Saturday’s game in State College, Pa., the Nittany Lions’ first game since their coach, Joe Paterno, was fired in the wake of a child sex scandal involving one of his former assistant coaches. Nebraska won 17-14, but on this day, that was secondary: “The situation that’s going on is bigger than football,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini says. Story, 4X

Associated Press

A time to remember, a time to heal Penn State and Nebraska players gather at midfield for a prayer before Saturday’s game in State College, Pa., the Nittany Lions’ first game since their coach, Joe Paterno, was fired in the wake of a child sex scandal involving one of his former assistant coaches. Nebraska won 17-14, but on this day, that was secondary: “The situation that’s going on is bigger than football,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini says. Story, 4X

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The Nebraska and Penn State players gathered at midfield before the game, kneeling for a long moment in a quiet stadium.

Saturday's game was a combination of pep rally, cleansing and tribute for a Penn State community rocked by the child sex-abuse scandal involving former assistant Jerry Sandusky that cost Joe Paterno his job as head coach.

"We've had better weeks in our lives, obviously," Jay Paterno, the quarterbacks coach and son of Joe, said after the game. "The world's kind of turned upside down, but I think our kids were resilient."

Asked what he said to his parents in a letter delivered earlier in the day, the son choked up:

"Just how proud of them I am, and, Dad, I wish you were here."

Affection for Penn State and Paterno was abundantly visible. So was support for abuse victims. Beaver Stadium was awash in blue — the color associated with child-abuse prevention — right down to the flags that accompanied the band, and more than $22,000 was collected for charities that support prevention of child abuse.

"We wanted to demonstrate, not just in the Penn State community but to rest of world, that Penn State is a caring community," new president Rod Erickson said. "That Penn State will move forward with a sense of purpose."

All that was missing was a victory.

After falling behind 17-0, No. 12 Penn State rallied with two second-half touchdowns, sending the crowd of 107,903 — largest of the year at Beaver Stadium — into a frenzy. But the Nittany Lions fell short on their last two drives and lost 17-14.

As the Penn State players disappeared into the tunnel for the last time this season, fans let out one more rousing cheer of, "We are … Penn State!"

"It's therapy," Dave Young, a lifelong Penn State fan, said. "I love Penn State football, always will love Penn State football. Tough week, cried in my office a couple times when I had moments to myself."

Instead of sprinting onto the field, the Penn State team marched out arm-in-arm through a corridor formed by the band and the Football Lettermen Club. They then gathered with the Nebraska players.

"Lord, we know we don't have control of all these events that took place this week. But we do know that you are bigger than it all," Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown said in the pregame prayer.

It was the first time in 46 years that Paterno was not leading the Nittany Lions, but his presence was still evident. When his image was shown in a video montage, the student section chanted, "Joe Paterno! Joe Paterno!"

Interim coach Tom Bradley decided to leave Paterno's place on the team bus empty. So it was Jay, not Joe, following the starting quarterback off the bus when it arrived at the stadium.

On the first fall Saturday he hasn't coached football since Harry Truman was president, Paterno, 84, apparently spent the day elsewhere — returning home only after the game had ended and heading directly inside. His wife, Sue, blew kisses to supporters on their front lawn and thanked them for their support during what she called a "difficult week." "We've always thought of Penn State as a family. … We will be again," she said, before going inside. Jay Paterno said after the game that his father had planned to watch the game on TV but didn't say where.

News of the scandal and its fallout brought heightened security, but there were no visible problems during the game.

19 Neb. 17

12 Penn St. 14

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Penn St. football takes first step 11/12/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 12, 2011 11:22pm]

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