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Penn State pulls out sloppy win over Illinois

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Penn State overcame six fumbles and an interception to beat Illinois 10-7 on Saturday, taking advantage of a botched snap on a field goal attempt in the first half and another attempt that bounced off the goal post as time expired. Joe Paterno broke Eddie Robinson's record for victories by a Division I coach with No. 409 with the win.

A game plagued with horrendous weather, sloppy play and little offense went to the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Sure-footed kicker Derek Dimke missed a last-second field goal for the Illinois Fighting Illini and Penn State came out victorious, holding on for the 10-7 win Saturday afternoon – their seventh straight victory.

Dimke, who was 7-7 on field goal attempts for the year, saw his 42-yard kick clang off the right upright as time expired, sending the frozen crowd of 97,828 into equal feelings of hysteria and euphoria.

With the win, Penn State improved to 8-1 on the season and 5-0 in Big Ten play. Michigan State’s loss earlier in the day to Nebraska left the Nittany Lions as the sole unbeaten team in the conference.

The Fighting Illini fell to 6-3 overall and 2-3 in Big Ten play with the loss.

The chance of victory looked bleak for the Nittany Lions until Dimke’s kick sailed into the right goal post. Penn State trailed for nearly 59 minutes and never had consistent play from their tandem of quarterbacks.

That is, until their game-winning drive.

Matt McGloin went from goat to hero in the span of 10 plays, masterfully guiding the Nittany Lion offense 80 yards down the field in 1:57 to set up Silas Redd’s 3-yard rushing touchdown. McGloin was 4-6 for 53 yards on the final drive and helped receiver Derek Moye draw a big pass interference penalty on a fourth down play. The penalty gave Penn State a fresh set of downs and allowed the offense to score the winning touchdown 4 plays later.

“It’s something this team has inside them,” McGloin said about his team’s ability to scratch out wins. “Needing to make a play, needing to get the job done, doing what it takes to get another win.”

Although McGloin looked poised on the final game-winning drive, his play during the rest of the game was erratic. McGloin completed just 5 of 18 passes for 45 yards and an interception before his final drive and backup Rob Bolden managed to put up worse numbers, completing no passes in 4 attempts with a fumble.

At one point, Penn State’s two quarterbacks had 9 straight incomplete passes spanning two-and-a-half quarters. There were no completions made in the second and third quarters.

“The offense played really bad all day,” McGloin said. “I don’t know if it was the weather, but we really didn’t get going early on. But in situations like that, we’re going to rise and we’re going to get it done.”

With snow steadily falling and winds howling in Happy Valley, Redd paced the Nittany Lion offense. He finished with 30 carries – a career high – for 137 yards and the lone touchdown. It was Redd’s fifth-straight 100-yard game and his sixth this year.

Redd finished off his historic day by going over 1,000 yards for the year, becoming just the 12th Penn State player to amass that many yards in a season.

In a game that featured 17 punts, 2 missed field goals, 5 fumbles and 3 interceptions, points were hard to come by.

Illinois got the scoring started in third quarter. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase – who had a mediocre day of his own behind center – found Spencer Harris streaking into the end zone from 10 yards out, giving the Illinois the 7-0 advantage.

Penn State would finally get on the board in the fourth quarter. The special teams unit would block an Illinois punt, setting the offense up at the Fighting Illini 31. The Nittany Lion offense gained just 18 yards on an ugly drive that took 10 plays, but kicker Anthony Fera nailed a 30-yard field goal that cut the deficit to 7-3.

Head coach Joe Paterno made some history of his own after Dimke’s miss sealed the win for Penn State. The win was the 409th of his storied career, giving Paterno the most wins by a head coach in Division 1 history. The previous record holder, Eddie Robinson, won 408 games in his career while coaching at Grambling State.

“It really is something that I’m proud of to be associated with Eddie Robinson,” Paterno said. “Jay Paterno told me not to forget to thank the grounds keeping crew, the coaching staff and a really good bunch of kids. And thanks to the fans for sitting through that today. You've got to be nuts,” he quipped.

But Paterno made sure to keep the attention away from his career and focused on his team’s composure.

“One thing about this football team is, at times we struggle, but we have a lot of character and these kids are really good competitors. This club is obviously a fine defensive football team and this was a tough football game to play.”

Penn State had four take-aways today, the most the team has forced this season.

Silas Redd became the first Nittany Lion with 5 straight 100-yard rushing games since Curtis Enis in 1997.

Penn State continues to keep points off the board, lowering their points-against average to 13.1 – the fifth best mark in the country.

Penn State gets a week off before hosting the newest member of the Big Ten, the 8th ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-1, 3-1) in their home finale. Kickoff is to be determined.

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