They Rose To The Occasion Shucks Nittany Lions Cap Perfect Season With Rose Bowl Win, But Coaches Vote Cornhuskers No. 1 No. 1 In Their Own Minds

Posted: January 03, 1995

PASADENA, Calif. — Joe Paterno had cleared the presentation stand on the 20-yard line, waded through the wave of cameras and strode directly to the stands, to the mass of blue and white refusing to leave the Rose Bowl.

There, he looked up and blew the Penn State faithful a kiss, a kiss for his record 16th bowl victory, a kiss for his and his alone personal quadfecta of wins in the four major bowls, a kiss for his fifth unbeaten, untied season, a kiss to send the fans off into the California night, the Pennsylvania winter something to deal with another day.

Penn State 38, Oregon 20.

In a season of artistic triumphs, this was not the 1994 team's finest hour. But it was their last hour.

It was not enough to get these Nittany Lions the school's third national championship. They finished No. 2, behind Nebraska, in both the final Associated Press media poll and CNN/USA Today coaches' poll.

But they did all they could. They played 12 games and won them all. The Penn Staters were screaming "We're No. 1" loud enough for it to reverberate off the San Gabriel Mountains surrounding the bowl.

"I think," Paterno said, "I'd have to agree with them."

A "Nebraska National Champions '94" banner, illuminated in red lights, hung from the mountainside. On this night, however, the Penn State people didn't seem to care. This was their night.

Their team had gone 12-0, swept the Big Ten, set records that may stand for generations and, now, Penn State had won its first Rose Bowl.

"To have an opportunity to come out here at my age and be part of this is something that I'm very grateful for," said Paterno, who turned 68 on Dec. 21. "Because of everything that was at stake for us, an undefeated season, what we think was a national championship season, it's obviously something special.

"It will rank with the Fiesta Bowl win over Miami (in 1987) and, obviously, the first time we (won the national championship, in 1983) when we played Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

"They're all pretty similar, but the (Rose Bowl) just seemed to be a little bit bigger."

State's offense started like it was going to be business as usual. On the Lions' first play from scrimmage, tailback Ki-Jana Carter took a simple pitch, stumbled for a second, ran over All-America cornerback Herman O'Berry at the line of scrimmage and was gone on a career-best 83-yard touchdown run.

"I tried to run (O'Berry) over," said Carter, who ran for 156 yards on 21 carries and had three touchdowns. "I successfully did that. Then, I saw nothing but green."

That was it for quick strikes. From there, it was a struggle.

Penn State played like a team that had stayed up late and watched Miami lead Nebraska for nearly 3 1/2 quarters in the Orange Bowl. The Nittany Lions played like kids who had to endure Nebraska's clinching touchdown as the clock struck midnight in State College.

Oregon, it turned out, was no fluke. These Ducks could play a bit. Quarterback Danny O'Neil, who set Rose Bowl records for passing attempts (61), completions (41) and passing yardage (456 yards) was on early and never really turned off.

But the Ducks (9-4) had no running game. And coach Rich Brooks was not exactly the Cincinnati Kid in his decision-making.

With Penn State reeling and the score tied, 7-7, in the first quarter, Oregon had a fourth-and-less-than-a-yard at the Penn State 6-yard line. Brooks

sent out placekicker Matt Belden, who promptly missed a 23-yard field goal attempt wide to the right.

With Penn State leading, 14-7, and 30 seconds to go until halftime, Oregon once again was in the red zone. First, O'Neil spiked the ball to stop the clock. Then, he threw two complete passes short of the end zone after the Ducks had run out of timeouts.

Apparently, Brooks went to the Rich Kotite school of clock management. The half ended with no field goal attempt and no throws into the end zone.

Oregon got life late in the third quarter when Penn State quarterback Kerry Collins threw a terrible interception that led directly to the Ducks' tying touchdown.

But before the Ducks could consider the magnitude of what they might achieve, Penn State's Ambrose Fletcher took the kickoff back 72 yards. Two plays later, Carter breezed through a hole the size of Sunset Boulevard and

went in untouched from 17 yards for the touchdown that put Penn State ahead to stay.

On the next series, O'Neil overthrew the ball down the middle and safety Chuck Penzenic, who made the first start of his career, had his second interception of the game. He ran it back 44 yards to Oregon's 13.

"I got lucky," Penzenic said. "When we came down here two weeks ago, they told me I was going to start. I just hoped I'd practice well enough to keep the starting position."

Penzenic practiced well enough. And he played better than he practiced, making the defensive play that swung the momentum decisively to his team.

Three plays after Penzenic's interception, Carter dove in from 3 yards out. Oregon kept playing, but only the celebration was left.

"This is something I've dreamed about since I left high school," defensive tackle Chris Mazyck said as he walked off the field for the final time in his Penn State jersey. "It's an unbelievable feeling."

Penn State's defense gave up all those passing yards but, until a meaningless touchdown at the end, Oregon really only had one long drive that resulted in a touchdown. The Ducks rushed for just 45 yards and were only 5- for-17 on third downs (29 percent). O'Neil was sacked six times and was under intense pressure the entire second half.

"We felt at halftime we could come out and win the football game," said Oregon coach Rich Brooks. "It's obvious we fell far short of that . . . I said before the game Penn State is the best offensive machine I've seen. I didn't see anything out there to change my mind."

Paterno was nearly finished in the interview room when Collins, linebacker Brian Gelzheiser and center Bucky Greeley, fifth-year seniors all, stopped the questioning.

Collins had a ball and a speech for Paterno.

"To the greatest bowl coach in the history of college football, won all four major bowls, has been an inspiration to myself and the rest of the team, national championship coach this year," Collins said.

Paterno didn't expect the ball, the speech, any of it. It was, his expression said, a special moment, a culmination of a season for the ages.

"These are the greatest guys I've ever been around," Paterno said. "I just want you to know that, the whole bunch of them."

Paterno didn't have to say this was his best team. It just was. It also was the fourth of his five unbeaten, untied teams not to win the national championship, another record.

"We're going to anoint ourselves national champions," Collins said. ''We're going to have a ring with a big, fat (No.) 1 in the middle of it and a lot of diamonds."

Play them all. Win them all. Win the Big Ten. Win the Rose Bowl.

That's enough to ensure a legacy of greatness. When all the analysis is done, that will remain. And nothing will ever change it.

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