PITTSBURG — PITTSBURGH -- College football traditionalists want the Penn State-Pitt rivalry to last forever, not end as an annual affair after next season.
What they got yesterday was a Penn State-Pitt game that threatened to last forever.
There are countries where governments change in less time than it took the sixth-ranked
Nittany Lions (10-2) to put away the Panthers (6-5), 32-20, before 52,519 damp fans at Pitt Stadium.
Through several weather changes, a school-record 64 passes by Pitt quarterback Alex Van Pelt, three Panthers fumbles and five interceptions, these two long-standing intrastate rivals stuttered through a game that took a remarkable 3 hours, 45 minutes to complete.
And it wasn't until tailback Richie Andersonbroke free for a 29-yard touchdown run with 6 minutes, 43 seconds remaining for the final margin that the Nittany Lions could heave a sigh of relief, concluding a long and successful regular season.
"God, we were out on that field a long time," said Penn State linebacker Keith Goganious.
"Almost four hours," added Lions cornerback Derek Bochna. "Seemed like it would never end."
It was fitting that Anderson was the one who finally nailed down a victory. The redshirt junior, who in the last month emerged as the dominating tailback he was expected to become, ripped through Pitt's defense for a career-high 167 yards, and two touchdowns, on 27 carries.
His clinching touchdown run came three plays after Darren Perry collected Penn State's fifth interception and returned the ball to the Pitt 29.
The Panthers, who will visit Penn State next year before the series is discontinued, had clawed back to within 26-20 on a 4-yard pass from Van Pelt to fullback Glenn Deveaux with 11:38 remaining.
"After Darren made the interception, we knew we needed a big play, and Richie gave it to us," said Penn State receiver Terry Smith, who sat out most of the second half with an injured nerve in his neck. "And when he made the big play, the feeling was like, thank goodness it's over."
To put in perspective how long Penn State's defense was on the field, consider that Pitt ran 93 plays, and 70 is considered a lot of plays.
It was a good thing for the Nittany Lions that Craig Fayak put his best foot forward. The sophomore, who labored early in the season, kicked four field goals, from 25, 47, 24 and 48 yards, to keep the Panthers at arm's length.
Early in the game, it looked as though the Nittany Lions were goingto have a holiday feast. They scored touchdowns on their first two possessions with such ease, one had to look twice to see if Pitt had showed up.
Penn State quarterback Tony Sacca, playing his final regular-season game, completed his first four passes. One was a 28-yard touchdown to Troy Drayton that made it 6-0 just 1:35 into the game.
Six plays after Penn State's O.J. McDuffie ran back a punt 22 yards, Anderson scored from 11 yards to help make it 14-0 with less than 5:30 gone.
"We really jumped on them, and then it seemed like we relaxed," said Smith, who caught six passes to increase his single-season school record to 55.