EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- As the Penn State players bounced
around the field, exchanging hugs and saluting the thousands of
fans who came to see the Nittany Lions become champions again, Joe
Paterno ducked and ran for cover.
After 40 seasons and 353 wins, the 78-year-old coach has been
part of more celebrations than he can count.
But for his players, it's been a long hard road to the program's
first appearance in the Bowl Championship Series.
JoePa and the fifth-ranked Nittany Lions locked up their first
Big Ten title in 11 years and the BCS bid that goes with it by
defeating Michigan State 31-22 Saturday.
Michael Robinson ran for 90 yards and a touchdown and passed for
another score, and Alan Zemaitis had three interceptions for Penn
State (10-1, 7-1).
Coming off a 4-7 season, its fourth losing year in the last
five, Penn State tied Ohio State for the Big Ten lead but will get
the league's automatic BCS bid because the Lions beat the Buckeyes
"I've been around a lot of good football teams and I've been in
a lot of locker rooms where we've felt pretty good about what we
had done," Paterno said. "The kids are the ones that are all
fired up and they should be, because they went though all that junk
-- the losing years, everyone doubting them and they got together
and went to work. They're the guys that should be happy."
Michigan State (5-6, 2-6), which began the season 4-0, finished
it with six losses in seven games to post consecutive losing
seasons for the first time since 1992.
When it was over, the Nittany Lions partied in Spartan Stadium
but Paterno bolted to the tunnel with his head down, looking up
just long enough to give the Penn State section a wave on the way
"He deserves it," said Robinson, had a 33-yard TD run in the
second quarter. "He really does. He's worked so hard. He stayed
with us. People told him to retire. Now look at him. Nobody's
saying to retire and no more Joe must go Web sites. None of that.
I'm just so happy for him."
Paterno wasn't too happy with his team earlier in the week, so
he booted the whole bunch from practice on Tuesday.
"They took it," Paterno said. "Nobody pouted. The captains
got them together and all's well that ends well."
Zemaitis' second pick came in third quarter, and he returned it
17 yards to the Michigan State 4. Robinson threw a 3-yard TD pass
to Deon Butler moments later for a 24-7 lead.
Paterno, pant-cuffs rolled and kept warm on a cold, windy night
by a long, dark winter coat, barely reacted to the score, turning
away to resume pacing the sideline as his players and coaches
jumped for joy.
The last time Penn State was Big Ten champs, Kerry Collins and
Ki-Jana Carter were piling up big numbers during the Nittany Lions'
second season in the league.
Who would have believed then that Paterno's program would
eventually drop to the Big Ten's second division?
That Penn State completed its return to the top against Michigan
State provided a bit of symmetry to the revival. Penn State
completed last season with a 37-13 victory over the Spartans in
Happy Valley that injected some optimism into the program heading
With a new, dynamic offense -- directed by the versatile senior
Robinson -- and the best defense Penn State has had since LaVar
Arrington was a Nittany Lion, Paterno has been vindicated.
He said throughout the 2004 season that he felt the team was
close to being a winner again -- and he was right.
"I feel wonderful," Zemaitis said. "It's something when you
put your mind to it, battle all adversity and nobody giving us
respect -- when you get what you wanted at the end, it makes it that
Michigan State looked as if it might be the surprise team in the
Big Ten after beating Notre Dame in September, but coach John L.
Smith's Spartans lost consecutive heartbreakers to Michigan and
Ohio State in October and never recovered.
"We're not satisfied with this season," Spartans defensive end
SirDarean Adams said. "We want to come back next year and really
The Spartans couldn't be accused of quitting in this one, even
after trailing 17-0 at half.
Jason Teague had a 25-yard touchdown run and receiver Jerramy
Scott ran 4 yards for a score on a direct snap to make it 24-14
after three quarters.
Michigan State was on the verge of making it even tighter,
driving to the Penn State 11 at the start of the fourth quarter.
But Drew Stanton was sacked by Jay Alford for a 13-yard loss and
Michigan State botched the snap and hold on a 43-yard field goal
attempt, never even getting a kick off.
Stanton finished 23-for-36 for 233 yards with four interceptions
and a late TD pass.
The Lions took advantage of the special teams' gaffe as Tony
Hunt capped a nice drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to make it
31-14 with 4:58 left.
Smith dropped to 18-18 in three seasons in East Lansing, a mark
that probably won't stop speculation about his job security, though
athletic director Ron Mason said has given no indication that he'd
fire Smith halfway through a six-year contract.
"I don't even worry about it," Smith said. "That's not my
decision. My job is to go out and recruit young men."
Michigan State had been 9-1 against top-10 opponents since 1997,
including 6-0 at home, but they couldn't play spoiler against Penn
Robinson was 10-for-20 passing for 105 yards and Hunt surpassed
1,000 yards rushing on the season with 89 in the game.
"People picked us to go sixth in the Big Ten," Robinson said.
"People said we should be happy with six or seven wins. Now we're
on top of the Big Ten right now."