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November 29, 2021

PSU Comeback Falls Short

PITTSBURGH, PA (UPI) – Penn State wouldn’t lie down but Pittsburgh wouldn’t be denied.

Quadree Henderson returned a fourth-quarter kickoff 84 yards to set up James Conner’s second touchdown of the game and Pittsburgh held on to beat Penn State 42-39 on Saturday in Pittsburgh.

With Penn State nearing field goal range, Pittsburgh safety Ryan Lewis intercepted Trace McSorley’s pass in the end zone with 1:15 left to secure the win in the first meeting of the two rivals since 2000.

George Aston added two touchdowns for the Panthers (2-0) who stayed ahead with a punishing ground game.

Saquon Barkley scored five touchdowns for the Nittany Lions (1-1) who looked like they might take their first lead in the waning minutes when McSorley rifled a deep ball into a wideout DaeSean Hamilton’s hands.

Hamilton, who had the coverage beaten, couldn’t come up with the catch and Rori Blair sacked McSorley on the next play.

McSorley completed 24 of 35 passes for 332 yards and a touchdown for Penn State. Conner led Pittsburgh with 117 rushing yards on 22 carries and added four catches for 29 yards.

Pittsburgh dominated the first quarter and much of the second. The Panthers racked up 289 first-half yards with 226 of them on the ground, opting to spread Penn State out with jet sweeps for chunks of yardage to both sidelines before powering up the middle to attack a vulnerable defensive front.

Aston bulled his way over the goal line from a yard out to complete a 99-yard opening drive for the Panthers and it got easier for them on their next drive.

After Ejuan Price drilled McSorley to force his first of two fumbles, Nathan Peterman found Henderson open for a 7-yard touchdown two plays later for a 14-0 lead.

A 59-yard punt return by John Reid set Penn State up in good field position and a pass interference call drew them closer. Barkley scored his first points of the day on the next play with a three-yard run.

The Panthers added a 9-play, 74-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard pass to tight end Scott Orndorff. They took a 28-7 lead on their next drive when Aston plunged into the end zone from three yards out.

Penn State would not lay down, however. Barkley soared over a pile for a 1-yard score out to score with only 42 seconds left in the first half to halve Pitt’s lead.

Barkley got free on a wheel route early in the third and beat Pitt’s secondary for a 40-yard touchdown reception to pull Penn State within a touchdown.

Pitt’s running game continued to do damage, however.

Conner finished a bruising 75-yard drive midway through the third with a 1-yard run before Barkley added another 1-yard touchdown. Tyler Davis kicked a 38-yard field goal to cut Pitt’s lead to 35-31 before Henderson’s return. Peterman found Conner on a 12-yard pass for what turned out to be the winning score.

The Nittany Lions began the game without stalwart middle linebacker Jason Cabinda and lost cornerback Grant Haley and defensive tackle Kevin Givens shortly thereafter to unspecified injuries.

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