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The Best Games In The History Of Penn State vs. Michigan

Penn State and Michigan, two of the most storied programs in college football history, are set to continue their conference rivalry when they meet under the lights in Ann Arbor this Saturday at 7 p.m.

Both schools boast rich traditions of success that date back to the earliest days of college football, filled with iconic coaches, players, and uniforms that lend an air of history when both teams take the field.

Penn State was a “cow college” that was transformed into a national powerhouse, known by many for its two national titles and iconic plain blue and white uniforms, after the arrival of Joe Paterno. Michigan has the most all-time wins, the largest stadium in the country, distinctive winged helmets, and a program that is recognized as one the nation’s elite.

That’s why it’s odd that Penn State and Michigan have only met on the field 17 times, with Michigan owning a slight 10-7 series advantage over the Nittany Lions. The teams, strangely enough, had never played one another before Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993.

While the budding rivalry has followed an unconventional path, with Penn State capturing victory in three of the first four contests, losing nine straight from 1997-2007, and then winning the last four, there has been no shortage of exciting games.

Without further ado, here’s a look at some of the most memorable games in the history of Penn State vs. Michigan football.

October 16, 1993 – Michigan welcomes Penn State to the Big Ten

Penn State entered the 1993 season as the newest member of the Big Ten conference, ending a 106-year run as an independent. The Nittany Lions squad was a budding national title contender, with future NFL draft picks Kerry Collins, Ki-Jana Carter, Bobby Engram, and Kyle Brady on the roster.

The team shot out to an impressive 5-0 mark to start the season, including wins over USC and Big Ten foes Minnesota and Iowa. The Lions were ranked ninth in the country, and were set to clash with No. 17 Michigan at Beaver Stadium for the 1,000th game in Penn State football history.

The game was played in front of 96,719, then the largest crowd in Beaver Stadium history, but the record crowd was forced to go home unhappy. Behind the strength of running back Tyrone Wheatley and his 192 yards rushing, the Wolverines beat the Nittany Lions, 21-13.

The key moment in the game came in the form of a Michigan goal-line stand late in the second half. With the Wolverines clinging to a 14-10 lead, the defense stopped four straight runs up the middle from the 6-inch line, as both Kerry Collins and Ki-Jana Carter could not find a way into the endzone.

Penn State settled for a short field goal attempt with six minutes left to cut the lead to 14-13, but after surrendering another touchdown to fall 8 points behind, the Lions failed to get past midfield on the final two possessions.

“They are awfully good on the goal line,” Paterno told reporters after the game. “I guessed they would loop out, expecting something like a bootleg pass, and I thought we could run right at them. So we went with the two sneaks and we just didn’t make it go.”

October 15, 1994 – Penn State gets its revenge

Just one day shy to the year of their last meeting, Penn State and Michigan were set to square off once again — this time in the Big House in Ann Arbor.

Following an impressive 10-2 record in their Big Ten debut season, the Nittany Lions looked poised to continue their success in 1994. Entering the contest against the Wolverines, Penn State was ranked third in the country and looking strong, having dispatched its first five opponents by an average margin of 34.4 points.

While Penn State’s dynamic duo of Kerry Collins and Ki-Jana Carter were tearing through opposing defenses, questions of whether the Lions were serious national contenders or not began to creep up. They had only beaten one ranked opponent to date, a 38-14 shellacking of No. 14 USC at home, and even the Trojans looked weak after stumbling to another loss to unranked Oregon just two weeks later.

“We haven’t been in a tough ballgame with all this riding on it,” Collins told the AP before the Michigan game, “and I think you need a game like that under your belt to really know what to expect going into a big game.”

The matchup against the fifth-ranked Wolverines surely lived up to expectations.

The Nittany Lions jumped to an early 16-0 lead behind the arm of Collins and the legs of Carter, but familiar foe Tyrone Wheatley helped lead Michigan back to take a 17-16 advantage in the third quarter.

Penn State recaptured the lead after a nine-yard scoring strike from Collins to John Whitman and a successful two-point try, but Michigan answered once again to tie the score on a one-yard touchdown run.

The score remained deadlocked at 24-24 until late in the fourth quarter when the Lions’ offense came to life. In less than two minutes, Penn State marched 55 yards in five plays to take a 31-24 lead on a 16-yard pass from Collins to Engram with 2:53 remaining.

The Wolverines still had plenty of time to come back, and reached midfield before Michigan’s Todd Collins threw a back-breaking interception with 1:26 remaining that sealed the win for Penn State.

The win gave Penn State sole possession of first place in the Big Ten, and catapulted the Lions to No. 1 in the rankings.

“For me, this is the biggest game of my life,” Carter said after the game. “They dominated the Big Ten for so long. I think we just gained respect as a great team.”

October 12, 2002 – First OT ever in Michigan Stadium ends in heartbreak

After beginning the season with wins over No. 7 Nebraska and No. 15 Wisconsin, Penn State found itself facing another top-ranked opponent, this time in the form of the No. 10 Michigan Wolverines.

The first 42 minutes were a dull affair, with the score knotted at 7. The following 18 minutes, however, saw three lead changes and 28 combined points, forcing the first overtime in the history of Michigan Stadium.

Penn State went ahead 13-7 with 2:40 left in the third quarter on a 9-yard pass from Zach Mills to Mike Lucac. Robbie Gould, who would go on to become the third most accurate kicker in NFL history, missed the extra point after missing a 47-yard field goal on the previous possession.

Three incompletions on the Wolverines’ next possession forced a punt from their own 10-yard line, but a roughing the kicker penalty kept the drive alive. Eight plays later, Michigan’s John Navarre hooked up with standout receiver Braylon Edwards for a 5-yard touchdown, and the ensuing extra point put the Wolverines ahead 14-13.

An 80-yard drive, capped by Mills’ 19-yard pass to Bryant Johnson and a succesful two-point conversion on another throw from Mills to Johnson, gave Penn State a one touchdown lead with 7:49 to go.

Michigan answered once again, tying the game with 3:24 left on another touchdown pass from Navarre to Edwards on third down.

Penn State won the toss in overtime and elected to have the ball first, but the Lions couldn’t muster any kind of offense and Gould kicked a 20-yard field goal to put the Lions ahead 24-21. That followed a 23-yard miss by Gould, but he was given another chance after a Michigan offsides penalty.

Michigan converted a third-and-1 from Penn State’s 16, and Chris Perry scored on a 3-yard touchdown four plays later to give the Wolverines the victory in front of a raucous home crowd.

“Our kids played hard and their kids played hard,” Paterno said after the game. “They had one more play than we had. It was as simple as that.”

October 15, 2005 – Henne to Manningham

In a back and forth battle that saw both teams take commanding leads in the second half, the Lions and Wolverines put together one of the most stunning final minutes in college football history.

After taking an 18-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, the eighth-ranked Wolverines found themselves trailing 21-18 late in the game. Following a Michael Robinson interception, Michigan ran some clock and punted to the Penn State 19-yard line. All the Wolverines had to do was stop Penn State’s offense.

With no timeouts left, Robinson drove the Nittany Lions down the field, converting a nail-biting fourth-and-7 from Michigan’s 39-yard line along the way. With just 53 seconds remaining, Robinson broke two tackles on a designed quarterback draw and plunged into the endzone on a 9-yard touchdown run to give Penn State the lead.

The Lions did it. They came from behind and stole a win over Michigan on the road, ending their six-game losing streak to the Wolverines. The undefeated season remained intact.

What happened next is one of the most gut-wrenching moments in Penn State football history.

Steve Breaston returned the ensuing kickoff to midfield, giving the Wolverines great field position for their final drive. Armed with two timeouts, Chad Henne led the Wolverines down to the Penn State 10-yard line. On Michigan’s final play, with one second remaining, Henne found Mario Manningham in the back of the endzone to give the Wolverines a 27-25 victory.

“It was a great football game. Our kids hung in there,” coach Joe Paterno said. “I’m proud of them. I’m disappointed for them.”

Penn State would go on to defeat Florida State in the Orange Bowl and finish the season ranked third in the country, but the lone defeat at the hands of Michigan will forever haunt a fan base that will always wonder what could have been.

October 12, 2013 – The Drive + The Catch + Four Overtimes = One Incredible Win

There were plenty of question marks surrounding the Penn State football team as they entered a matchup against undefeated No. 18 Michigan. How would the team respond after an ugly loss to Indiana? Would Bill O’Brien be able to fix an offense that sputtered against a poor Hoosiers defense? How would freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg perform under the lights in his first nationally televised prime time contest?

Those questions and much more were answered early, as Penn State, led by the arm of their 18-year-old signal caller, cruised to a 21-10 halftime lead thanks to three Hackenberg touchdown passes. Everything seemed to click for the Nittany Lions, signaling what could be an easy night for the Lions faithful.

But where’s the fun in that?

A fumble by Zach Zwinak on Penn State’s first play of the second half allowed an easy 24-yard scoop and score for Michigan’s Frank Clark to pull the Wolverines within four points of the lead. Penn State’s offense failed to get anything going in the third quarter, and quarterback Devin Gardner found Jeremy Gallon in the end zone late in the frame to give Michigan a 27-24 lead.

Following another touchdown pass from Gardner, this time a 37-yard strike to 6-foot-5 Devin Funchess, Penn State inexplicably found themselves trailing by 10 points. A pivotal win, it seemed, was not in the cards.

After a 43-yard field-goal from Sam Ficken, his second 40-plus yard kick of the game, put the Lions within a touchdown with 6:35 left to play, the defense forced a Michigan punt at the Penn State 35 that bounced into the end zone for a touchback.

The stage was set. As announcer Joe Tessitore put it: “There will be 50 seconds, no timeouts, and an 18-year-old taking to the field to try and become a legend.”

Pass to Allen Robinson for 14 yards to the Penn State 34. Pass to Felder for 29 yards to the Michigan 37.

On second-and-10 after a spike to stop the clock, Hackenberg drops back to throw. He sees Robinson streaking down the left sideline, matched up in single coverage. He heaves it to the 6-foot-3 junior. Robinson jumps, stretches his mitts to the sky, and after what seems like an eternity as the crowd watches with bated breath, he catches the ball in midair and lands at the Michigan 1-yard line.

The next play, Hackenberg sneaks into the end zone for the game-tying touchdown. We’re going to overtime.

And oh, what an overtime it was.

In the first OT, a Sam Ficken miss was followed by a Penn State block on what would have been a Michigan game-winning field goal.

In the second OT, both teams traded field goals, as a Brendan Gibbons 25-yard make was matched by Ficken’s 36-yard boot.

In the third OT, disaster strikes. On an end around to Allen Robinson, he fumbles the ball and Michigan recovers. All the Wolverines have to do is a kick a field goal for the win. Gibbons lines up for the 33-yard field goal. It’s in the middle of the field, what seems to be an automatic kick from such close range. He pushes it wide left. Penn State still has a chance.

In the fourth OT, Penn State’s defense forces a three and out, backing the Wolverines up to the Penn State 23-yard line. This time, Gibbons is true from 40 yards.

Needing a field goal to tie, Penn State takes over at the 20 yard line. Three straight carries by Bill Belton give Penn State a fourth-and-1 from the Michigan 16. Bill O’Brien has a decision to make. Does he send Ficken out to kick a 33-yard field goal, forcing yet another overtime? Nope. The second-year coach opts to go for it, and Belton sneaks by a stacked box for a three-yard gain.

Three plays later, it’s first and goal at the two. Belton gets the ball. Belton goes left. Belton is in the endzone, and Penn State completes an incredible come-from-behind victory in front of 107,884 raucous fans dressed in white.

“Nothing should amaze you,” O’Brien said after the game. “There’s going to be twists and turns. These are tough kids. They love Penn State. They love playing for each other. The locker room is such a great scene right now because these kids really believe in each other.”

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About the Author

CJ Doon

CJ is a senior journalism major from Long Island and Onward State's Sports Editor. He is a third-generation Penn Stater, and his grandfather wrestled for the university back in the 1930s under coach Charlie “Doc” Speidel. Besides writing, one of his favorite activities is making sea puns. You can follow him on Twitter @CJDoon, and send your best puns to [email protected], just for the halibut.

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