Ranking The Most Memorable Vacated Wins
Happy Valley is slightly happier after Joe Paterno’s 111 victories — plus Tom Bradley’s lone win against Ohio State — have been rightfully restored by the NCAA.
So, in honor of our coach, let’s take a look back at the most memorable of the vacated wins.
10. The 2006 Orange Bowl Victory
This victory symbolized the resilience of a program after years of futility, led by the most unlikely of heroes. The loss of Penn State’s all-time leading passer led to intense speculation regarding the program and whether it would return to prominence. Those questions were promptly answered after senior quarterback Michael Robinson took the reins and led Penn State to a Big Ten Championship, followed by its most significant bowl victory in the last 15 years.
Robinson was awarded Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, and finished fifth in Heisman voting after throwing for 2,350 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. He also totaled 806 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Robinson became the first player in Penn State history to throw for over 2,000 yards and rush for over 500 in a single season.
9. Penn State’s 2008 Victory Over Terrelle Pryor
The Nittany Lions entered The Horseshoe sitting at No. 3 in the country with an 8-0 record. The only team standing between Penn State and sole control of the Big Ten was Ohio State, led by freshman phenom Terrelle Pryor. After incumbent starter Darryl Clark was injured in the fourth quarter, Paterno turned to backup Pat Devlin to lead the team and finish the job.
With little time to prepare, Devlin was thrown into action and responded with two monumental scoring drives, including the go-ahead touchdown on the goal line that sealed the victory and put the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten driver’s seat. The game was highlighted by defensive back Mark Rubin’s diving strip of Pryor on a crucial third-and-one in the fourth quarter that gave Penn State the ball deep in Ohio State territory with the Buckeyes leading by three.
8. JoePa Ties “The Bear” in 2001
Entering the matchup against Northwestern with a shot at history, there was plenty at stake for Joe Paterno and the winless Nittany Lions. After starter Matt Senneca suffered a concussion, Paterno turned to Zack Mills, then a redshirt freshman, to come in and finish what Senneca started.
He did so effortlessly, driving down the field, and keeping the drive alive with a perfect strike to Bryant Johnson for a crucial first down. Mills’ defining moment came as he hit Eric McCoo with 22 seconds remaining in the end zone, putting Penn State ahead for good, and tying Joe Paterno with legendary Alabama head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant with 323 career victories.
7. JoePa Eclipses “The Bear” Against Ohio State
After leading Penn State to victory following a miraculous fourth quarter comeback the week prior, redshirt freshman Zack Mills was tabbed for his first career start against the Ohio State Buckeyes. Things got off to a rough start, as Penn State failed to finish off its first three drives, all of which resulted in field goals. Things seemed to be getting out of hand as the Buckeyes opened up the second half with a 64-yard touchdown run that put them ahead 20-9.
But that night, there was magic in the air. Penn State began to mount a stunning comeback, spearheaded by Mills’ memorable 69-yard touchdown run after being picked off on the previous drive. The teams battled back and forth, but with 2:54 left in the third quarter and the ball in his hands, Mills again did the impossible, hitting Eric McCoo to take a 29-27 lead. Ohio State’s late field goal attempt was promptly blocked, and Joe Paterno earned victory No. 324, eclipsing the legendary Bryant.
6. Penn State Upsets No. 6 Ohio State In 2005
In front of 108,000 fans in a sea of white, the stage was set for something miraculous. Penn State led 14-3 late, but that margin was cut to seven after a Buckeye touchdown and a Nittany Lion field goal. A slugfest ensued, with neither team able to cap off a scoring drive. Late in the fourth, future Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith led the Buckeyes down the field in an effort to knot up the score after a pair of big completions.
The drive came to a screeching halt after Penn State defensive end Tamba Hali charged through Ohio State’s offensive line, crushing Smith as he tried to escape, causing what we now know as “The Fumble”. Penn State would hold on to win 17-10 in legendary fashion.
5. Tom Bradley Gives Penn State First Victory Of The Post-Paterno Era
Tom Bradley, the team’s beloved defensive coordinator and interim head coach, entered Columbus with emotions running high. Bradley was tabbed as the team’s interim head coach in the wake of Joe Paterno’s firing. The game went back and forth, but with two huge touchdowns by Stephfon Green and a potent Wildcat offense, the Nittany Lions held on despite an impressive performance from Ohio State’s Braxton Miller. The victory signaled the school’s first victory of the post-Paterno era, giving fans something to smile about in the midst of turmoil.
4. Joepa Enters The 400 Club
Under the floodlights of Beaver Stadium, Joe Paterno needed one more victory to join the elusive “400-club”. Led by Matt McGloin, the Nittany Lions would not let their coach down. McGloin was a machine, throwing for 225 yards and four touchdowns in relief of embattled freshman Rob Bolden, while the defense held the Wildcats scoreless in the second half. The Nittany Lions prevailed, erasing a three-score deficit en route to a 35-21 victory. Paterno became the first major college coach to reach the 400-victory milestone, only adding to his illustrious legacy.
3. JoePa Ties Eddie Robinson With Win No. 408
Riding a career-high performance from Silas Redd, who finished with 164 yards and a touchdown, Penn State weathered a valiant effort by Dan Persa and a 2-5 Northwestern squad. The Nittany Lions took a 27-24 lead into halftime, and responded with a defensive performance for the ages, eliminating any hopes of a Northwestern upset. Quarterback Matt McGloin finished with 192 yards and two touchdowns against a stout Northwestern defense, one that put up quite the fight in the first half. With win No. 408, Joe Paterno was now on the cusp of history, needing only a single victory to eclipse the legendary Eddie Robinson.
2. Penn State Punches Rose Bowl Ticket
In one of his finest performances as a Nittany Lion, quarterback Daryll Clark torched No. 17 Michigan State for 341 yards and four touchdowns, earning Penn State its second Big Ten title in four years. Penn State’s dominant defense had one of its best showings of the season, holding Michigan State star tailback Javon Ringer to a season-low 42 yards on 17 carries. Penn State was firing on all cylinders, never giving the Spartans a chance in the 49-18 drubbing. The victory also punched Penn State’s ticket to Pasadena, where the Lions would later fall 38-24 to Mark Sanchez and the USC Trojans in the 2009 Rose Bowl.
Words simply do not do this moment justice, but here we go anyway.
After taking a three-point lead late in the fourth quarter after Silas Redd punched one in from three yards out, the Nittany Lions needed one more stop to make Paterno the winningest coach in college football history. Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase led the Fighting Illini down the field, all the way to Penn State’s 25-yard line to get within field goal range. As time expired, the Illini attempted a field goal that would’ve sent the game into overtime. But there were bigger plans in store, as this was Joe Paterno’s shining moment, one that would not be upstaged by the resilient Illini. The kick deflected off the right upright, and fell to the ground. History was made, and Paterno cemented his legacy as the winningest division one head coach in major college football history.
The NCAA has officially righted a heinous wrong.
For The Glory.
Photo: Dave Cole