Notre Dame, Nittany Lions end classic series in
by Jason Kelly
It was a classic ending to a classic series.
Notre Dame's 17-16 win over Penn State was another in a
long line of fantastic finishes that have turned the annual Notre Dame
- Penn State game into one of college football's greatest rivalries.
But Saturday's game marked the end to the series as
Penn State prepares to join the Big Ten.
"It has been a great series and it's too bad it has to
end." Penn State coach Joe Paterno said after Saturday's game. "It has
been good for college football. It seems like every game, with the
exception of last year (a 35-13 Penn State win) ended like this."
When the excitement of Reggie Brooks' game-winning
catch subsides, the Notre Dame - Penn State series will fade into
But the memories of the frigid November battles that
have decided championships and created heroes will never fade.
* 1982 - Notre Dame was 6-1-1 and fresh off an upset of
top ranked Pittsburgh, and Penn State was once-beaten and ranked
fourth. National championship implications loomed large as the teams
battled under the lights at Notre Dame Stadium.
With the Irish leading 14-13 after three quarters,
hopes were high. But they were soon dashed as Penn State quarterback
Todd Blackledge connected with Kurt Warner for a 48-yard touchdown
pass, giving the Nittany Lions a lead they would never relinquish. The
national championship awaited Penn State, and a 6-4-1 record loomed
ahead for the Irish.
* 1986 - Lou Holtz's first season with Notre Dame. A
season of near comebacks and close shaves against the nations best
teams that earned the Irish nothing more than respect and six losses.
With third-ranked Penn State leading early in the
fourth quarter, it looked like Notre Dame would once again fall to a
ranked opponent. Like so many times in the 1986 season, the Irish did
lose, but they threw quite a scare into Joe Paterno's troops in the
Steve Beuerlein directed a 64-yard scoring drive early
in the final period to bring the Irish to within 24-19. And with 2:29
left, the Irish had the ball and a chance to win.
It was first and goal from the six in the final minute,
but Penn State's defense would hold, as Beuerlein's fouth-down pass
from the 18 to Mark Green left the Irish short of the goal line.
Another national title for Penn State, another tough
loss for Notre Dame.
* 1987 - A resurgent Notre Dame team traveled to the
snows of Pennsylvannia to state its claim as a national title
contender. Sophomore Tony Rice was at the controls of the vesatile
Irish offense that had beaten the likes of Michigan, USC and Alabama.
After a late touchdown, only a successful two-point
conversion separated Notre Dame from victory. But Tony Rice was
stopped short on an option play and Penn State escaped again, 21-20.
* 1992- Payback time.
The close games against Penn State usually don't go
Notre Dame's way over the past decade, but Saturday all the
frustration melted away with the snow at Notre Dame Stadium.
After Rick Mirer engineered a long scoring drive in the
final minutes, the Irish once again needed to execute a two-point
conversion to shake off their long-time nemesis.
A fierce pass rush forced Mirer out of the pocket, but
he rolled right and released just before he got hit. The pass sailed
toward the back of the end zone, and so did Brooks. And when the ball
and Brooks met, Notre Dame had finally won a close one against the
The series couldn't have ended any other way.
"It was a typical Notre Dame - Penn State game," Irish
coach Lou Holtz said. "We're going to miss playing this game, they're
are a class team."
Others in the Notre Dame locker room echoed Holtz's
sentiments. "I love playing Penn State, it's always so
competitive,"Junior Jeff Burris said. "There is always added
enthusiasm surrounding this game. I will miss it a lot."
So will college football.