PITTSBURGH -- With a victory yesterday over Pitt, the Nittany Lions of Penn State finished their regular season at 10-2. But the contest probably won't figure into many players' fond memories of this successful season.
The 32-20 victory over the Panthers took 3 hours and 54 minutes to achieve. But to the players and to the 52,519 spectators at Pitt Stadium, who endured a light rain and icy temperatures, it seemed even longer.
"It was a long game," said Lou Benfatti, a defensive lineman for Penn State. "A long game both mentally and physically."
There were a number of reasons for the lengthy, often boring battle, the most notable being Pitt quarterback Alex Van Pelt, who attempted a school-record 64 passes, 27 of which he completed for 324 yards and two touchdowns.
Van Pelt also was intercepted five times, a few of those errant passes thwarting key drives in the second half, as the Panthers constantly tried but were never able to catch the Nittany Lions.
The game also produced seven fumbles with Penn State dropping the ball five times and losing possession twice and Pitt fumbling twice for one turnover.
Penn State quarterback Tony Sacca completed 11 of 27 passes for 162 yards and one touchdown, and his teammate Richie Anderson, a tailback from Sandy Spring, Md., carried the ball 27 times for 167 yards and two touchdowns.
For the Nittany Lions, the rest of the offense was provided by Craig Fayak, who succeeded on all four field-goal attempts, from 25, 47, 24, and 48 yards.
"I thought on defense we played very well," said Joe Paterno, the Penn State coach. "We didn't do much offensively in the second half, but overall, I thought it was a good, tough win."
Pitt, which finished its season at 6-5, trailed by 23-7 at the end of the first half. But the Panthers scored a touchdown on their second possession of the third quarter on a 73-yard pass from Van Pelt to split end Dietrich Jells. That and the extra point cut the lead to 23-14.
After a 48-yard field goal by Fayak with eight seconds left in the third quarter gave Penn State a 26-14 lead, Van Pelt and the Panthers got the blue and gold pompons of the hometown fans swirling wildly again.
On fourth-and-goal from the Penn State 4-yard line, Van Pelt completed a soft pass over the middle to Glenn Deveaux, a fullback, to bring Pitt to 26-20. But Scott Kaplan's extra-point kick failed.
The next series was crucial for the Pitt defense, and it rose to the occasion, forcing the Nittany Lions to punt from their 21-yard line.
The Panthers took over at their 31, but on second-and-14 from the 27, Van Pelt was intercepted by outside linebacker Reggie Givens.
After the interception, both teams exchanged possessions, but the Nittany Lions put the game away midway through the fourth quarter when Anderson took a handoff from Sacca at Pitt's 29-yard line and burst up the middle for his second score of the day. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but Penn State was up comfortably, 32-20.
"They're a superb football team," said Paul Hackett, the Pitt coach. "There was a stretch in the third and fourth quarters where we had a chance, and the offense just couldn't get a first down."
Penn State's next opponent will be Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day.
The victory was the 239th for Paterno, moving him ahead of Woody Hayes on the major-college career list. He trails Paul "Bear" Bryant, who had 323 victories, Amos Alonzo Stagg (314) and Pop Warner (313).