Penn State makes a positive statement in loss to Alabama

Posted: September 16, 2010

Never give up.

Three little words that get tossed around like confetti by football coaches and players, usually in game situations that are bleak and seemingly hopeless. Oh, sure, comebacks from imposing deficits are possible, if there is sufficient time on the clock to reverse momentum. In the opening week of the season, Jacksonville State, a Football Championship Subdivision team, overcame a 31-10 halftime deficit to shock a heavily favored Southeastern Conference school, Ole Miss, 49-48, in double overtime.

More often, though, the refusal to give in is more subtle and doesn't produce quite so dramatic an end result. It can come in the form of a fourth-quarter goal-line stand that keeps a team that's three touchdowns behind from falling into an even deeper hole, or a late, confidence-boosting scoring drive by an offense that previously had been held well in check. Moral victories don't count for as much as real ones, but they do count for something.

Which brings us to the craziest play of this young season for Penn State, an improbable 82-yard loss from scrimmage that, before it's all over, could define what the young Nittany Lions are all about. On the surface, Chaz Powell's second-quarter fumble in the red zone against top-ranked Alabama appeared to be an unmitigated disaster, snuffing a potential touchdown march and nearly turning into a 14-point swing the wrong way. Plays like that can define a season, too, in a negative sense.

But, maybe more than anything, the hustle and determination exhibited by Penn State wide receivers Derek Moye and Brett Brackett stands out as a positive for the 22nd-ranked Nits (1-1) as they head into Saturday afternoon's hosting of Kent State (1-1) in Beaver Stadium.

Powell was hit by Mark Barron and lost control of the football on a 4-yard reception from freshman quarterback Rob Bolden at the Alabama 12-yard line. The ball was scooped up at the 9 by Crimson Tide safety Robert Lester. It looked like Lester would take it 91 yards in the other direction for a touchdown that would have boosted the defending national champion's lead from 14-0 to 21-0.

Moye, a former high school sprint champion who had been trying to block, set off in pursuit of Lester, closing ground with each stride until he finally caught up with him inside the Penn State 10, where he stripped the ball from Lester's grasp. For a moment it appeared the second fumble on the same play would be gathered in by Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick, but Brackett, trailing the play but busting it as hard as Moye, outfought him for the loose ball at the Nits' 2.

It was the most inspiring 82-yard loss - 86 if you count the yardage that would have gone to Powell had he hung on - that anyone ever is likely to see on a football field.

Would Penn State have gone on to win had it scored on that second-quarter drive? Probably not. The Nits, inexperienced and outmanned, were no match on this evening against what probably is the most talented team in the nation.

But did Moye and Brackett perhaps set the tone for future contests by not giving up on a play that should have resulted in another Alabama touchdown? Quite possibly. After the Nits picked up one first down and were forced to punt, the Tide took over on its 40 and eventually scored on a 31-yard field goal by Jeremy Shelley to make it 17-0.

Let Moye explain what happened.

"I was on the backside of the play," the 6-5, 202-pound redshirt junior said. "I was running across, trying to make a cutoff block on my guy, when I saw Chaz fumble and [Lester] pick it up.

"I just started chasing him, trying to make a play. [Tailback] Stephfon [Green] and Rob both made him cut back. I was fortunate enough with hustle to be able to catch up and strip him.

"It was even better hustle by Brett because he actually had missed a tackle right when Lester recovered the fumble. But he was the guy who wound up recovering the ball at the 1-yard line [actually the 2]."

Perhaps it is a coincidence that Penn State - teetering on the verge of being blown out at intermission, having yielded 288 yards to Alabama while picking up only 131 - was much more competitive thereafter. Alabama gained 121 yards in the final two periods while the Lions picked up 152.

Perhaps the Nits simply responded to the very pointed criticism of their first-half play by their hopping mad coach, Joe Paterno.

Then again, Moye and Brackett might have issued a statement of sorts that Penn State can be defeated on the field, but it won't ever quit.

"I was kind of spectating from behind," said guard Stefen Wisniewski, a 300-pounder who kept running but lacked the giddyap to be in the vicinity. "You have to give it to Derek and Brett. They had to really get after it to keep [Lester] from scoring. That was impressive."

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