JoePa scores epic record in victory

In bright white letters against a blue background, the electronic sign boards around Beaver Stadium took note of another milestone for Joe Paterno long after the stands had cleared.

”Congratulations Coach Paterno,” the signs read. ”Winningest Coach In Division I College Football.”

It took all 60 minutes on a snowy, sloppy Saturday in Happy Valley, but JoePa broke Eddie Robinson’s record with victory No. 409 as No. 21 (No. 19 in BCS Standings) Penn State defeated Illinois 10-7.

The Nittany Lions (8-1, 5-0 Big Ten) overcame six fumbles – losing two – with Silas Redd’s 3-yard touchdown run with 1:08 to go. Penn State’s only touchdown came after Illinois corner Justin Green was whistled for pass interference while breaking up a fourth-down pass for Derek Moye in the end zone.

Illinois (6-3, 2-3) drove from its 17 to the Penn State 25 on the next drive, but Derek Dimke’s 42-yard field goal attempt bounced off the right upright as time expired.

Even JoePa was nervous in the press box before Penn State’s last drive. Paterno coached upstairs since he’s still got a sore right leg, shoulder and pelvis following an accidental preseason hit.

”Did I have any doubts,” he asked rhetorically with a chuckle. ”Sure I had doubts … but it worked out anyway.”

In a common occurrence over his remarkable 46-year career, Paterno was feted again with a postgame ceremony. School president Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley presented JoePa with a plaque that read, ”Joe Paterno. Educator of Men. Winningest Coaach. Division One Football.”

Among all coaches, Paterno now only trails John Gagliardi, still active at Division III St. John’s, Minn., with 481 victories.

”It really is something I’ve very proud of, to be associated with Eddie Robinson,” Paterno said in a brief postgame ceremony in the media room broadcast to fans still waiting in the stands 10 minutes later. ”Something like this means a lot to me, an awful lot. But there’s a lot of other people I’ve got to thank.”

Start with Redd, the budding star who had a career-high 30 carries for 137 yards for Penn State, none bigger than his late TD run.

An early-season snowstorm had fans bundled up in winter parkas and hoodies. The offenses seemed to be frozen stiff.

After struggling most of the afternoon, quarterback Matt McGloin drove Penn State from their own 20 to the Illini 32 on three long completions before the pass interference call gave the Nittany Lions a second chance.

”I thought it was a good play myself,” frustrated Illini coach Ron Zook said. ”But obviously (the referee) thought … I don’t know, I didn’t ask him.”

Redd capitalized four plays later by barreling into the end zone, the crowd erupting in delight.

Jason Ford rushed for 100 yards on 24 carries but Illinois couldn’t capitalize on a slew of Penn State mistakes in a defensive slugfest.

Illlinois outgained Penn State 286-209. After a quiet start, Illinois’ pass rush turned up the heat in the second half, getting 2.5 sacks combined from standout ends Michael Buchanan and Whitney Mercilus.

Still, the Illini’s offense wasn’t much better than Penn State, but they got just got enough in the third quarter from scrambling quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase to scratch out a 10-yard touchdown pass to Spencer Harris for a 7-0 lead.

Illinois’ defense held firm from there until Penn State’s late TD drive.

Moye, back after missing two games because of a left foot injury, dropped a third-down pass to groans from the crowd on the winning drive. McGloin went for Moye on fourth down with 1:31 left, and the ball bounced off the receiver’s hands in the end zone – but there was contact and the interference penalty gave Penn State another chance.

Zook could only wince on the sideline as a once-quiet Penn State crowd burst back to life.

”They were just able to find their receivers. They weren’t able to do that all game, we pretty much got them all game,” Buchanan said. ”As a D-line, we weren’t able to get pressure on the quarterback that we wanted to. So it was pretty much on us.”

Illinois’ struggling offense couldn’t get untracked again early, going scoreless in the first half for a third straight game. They wasted opportunities deep in Penn State territory following fumbles by Redd at his own 37 in the first half, and quarterback Rob Bolden at the 29 late in the second half.

On that drive, Illinois receiver Ryan Lankford made a pretty tiptoe catch along the sideline from backup quarterback Riley O’Toole for a 12-yard gain to the 12. The play was upheld by replay – and fans in the student section showed their displeasure by tossing snowballs on the field.

The snowballs missed the players – much like most of the passes Saturday. McGloin was 9 of 24 for 98 yards, while Bolden missed all four of his pass attempts, all in the second quarter.

Scheelhaase finished 9 of 16 for 63 yards, and ran 14 times for 89 yards.

After the game, Paterno had one last message to the frigid fans outside before they headed to the exits in relief.

”For all the fans out there, thanks for sitting through that today,” Paterno said half-jokingly, ”You’ve got to be nuts!”