By: C.J. Doon
For a brief moment, Penn State appeared to have taken the lead.
But just as soon as that moment arrived, it vanished right before the Lions’ eyes.
Trailing 27-23 with 7:46 left to play, Penn State lined up at Nebraska’s three-yard line in need of a touchdown. Matt McGloin completed a quick screen pass to senior tight-end Matt Lehman, who dove head first into the endzone and appeared to score what would be the go-ahead touchdown.
However, the ball was knocked loose from Lehman’s outstretched arms after he collided with a host of Nebraska defenders, and was recovered by the Cornhuskers in the end zone for a touchback, erasing the potential go-ahead touchdown.
Replays show that Lehman had possession of the football when the ball crossed the plane, but upon further review by the replay officials, it was determined that Lehman fumbled before the ball crossed the goal line.
Senior Matt McGloin, playing in his first full season as the Lions’ starting quarterback, expressed his displeasure with the call to a group of reporters after the game.
“We’re not going to get that call here,” McGloin said. “We’re not going to get that call ever, actually, against any team. It doesn’t matter who the refs are. That’s the way it is.”
Head coach Bill O’Brien explained what he saw on the controversial play, but refused to comment on any possibility of a “referee conspiracy” against Penn State.
“They just didn’t feel like they could reverse it,” O’Brien said. “He tried to reach it out. You can’t do that. He was just reaching it out. Good kid trying to make a play.”
“We don’t feel like anyone is out to get us,” O’Brien said.
The controversial touchdown call overshadowed what was an overall brilliant game played by both teams. After Penn State took a 20-6 lead into halftime, the Cornhuskers responded with two touchdowns in less than two minutes, and tied the score at 20-20 after Imani Cross rumbled two yards for his second touchdown of the day.
Penn State regained a three-point lead after Sam Ficken’s 35-yard field goal with 6:01 left to play in the third quarter, but Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez answered with a 5-yard TD pass to Jamal Turner to take a 27-23 lead.
Martinez created big plays with both his arm and his legs on Saturday, throwing for 171 yards and a score, and rushing for another 104 yards on 15 carries. Martinez, along with running backs Ameer Abdullah, Imani Cross, and Braylon Heard totaled 267 rushing yards, and the Cornhuskers produced 438 total yards against the Lions’ normally stingy defense.
“They were just executing a little better,” senior linebacker Glenn Carson said. “Martinez made some big plays, but I don’t think they showed us anything we weren’t expecting. It’s just that their execution was pretty good.”
Penn State’s offense did not have any trouble moving the ball in the first half, as Zach Zwinak scampered for a 50-yard touchdown on the Lions’ first possession. However, the Cornhusker’s defense buckled down in the second half and limited McGloin to 241 yards, one touchdown, and one interception on the afternoon.
Allen Robinson hauled in six catches for 97 yards to maintain his Big Ten-leading marks in receptions (63), receiving yards (786), and touchdowns (8).
Zach Zwinak was the leading ball carrier for the Lions’ for the third straight week, and finished with a career-high 141 yards on 21 carries.
With two games remaining before the end of the season, Penn State heads home to take on Indiana at Beaver Stadium, before their final matchup against the Wisconsin Badgers. Kickoff against the Hoosiers is set for 12PM ET on the Big Ten Network.