PHILADELPHIA — On the brink of a program-shifting upset, Temple instead tossed away the lead.
Blowouts or close calls, the Owls simply can't beat Penn State.
This game was closer than most over the last 70 years, but the Owls collapsed down the stretch. Mike Gerardi threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter, and the Nittany Lions rallied for a 14-10 victory on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Beating the Nittany Lions would have put the state and the sport on notice that Temple was a team worth following.
"One game doesn't define us one way or the other," Temple coach Steve Addazio said. "That doesn't define our season. We've got our whole conference season to play for."
After missing two field goal attempts, Penn State converted a late fourth down and Michael Zordich made the gamble pay off with a 1-yard run to stretch the Nittany Lions' winning streak against Temple to 29 straight games.
Penn State (2-1) had its field goal unit on the field for the tying attempt.
High above the field in the press box, Joe Paterno ordered a timeout and a change in plans — the Nittany Lions would go for it.
On fourth-and-1 on the 3, Brandon Beachum rushed for 2 clutch yards. Zordich followed with the easy score with 2:42 left and the Nittany Lions led for the first time in the game, giving the thousands of fans who made the trip a reason to roar in celebration.
"Coach (Paterno) makes big money to make those calls. Not me," said defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who ran the sidelines without Paterno.
Aided by a defensive penalty, the Owls (2-1) drove to the 34 on their final possession. Gerardi was sacked on fourth down to end the drive and the upset bid.
"I really felt like we were going to go down the field and score," Addazio said.
The Owls led for most of the game and gave their intrastate rival one of the biggest scares in this series.
Temple has not defeated Penn State since a 14-0 victory on Oct. 18, 1941. The teams tied 7-7 in 1950.
Watching from the press box because of injuries again, Paterno improved to 28-0 vs. the Owls. But he almost saw a monumental upset a week after Penn State lost at home, 27-11, to Alabama.
The 84-year-old Paterno returned to the field for pregame warmups for the first time this season. He watched from the press box because he wasn't quick enough yet to get out of the way if action barreled his way. He's expected to return to the sideline next week vs. Eastern Michigan.
"I was afraid I'd run out of gas," Paterno said.
The Owls did in front of the third-largest crowd in school history.
Gerardi gave away the lead with the interceptions — Michael Mauti's pick set-up Zordich's score — and the Owls squandered a pair of fantastic chances to stretch the lead in the second half. Temple did not score off cornerback Kee-ayre Griffin's interception that put the ball on the 50, and came up empty after Rod Streater had an open path and blocked a punt that let the Owls start on Penn State's 39.
But in defeat, Temple still opened some eyes.
"They are on their way, and they are a program to be respected," Penn State running back Silas Redd said. "Up and coming, improved, whatever you want to call them. All I know, is they're going to be trouble for a lot of teams on their schedule."
Penn State last visited South Philadelphia in 2007, and it was then that the blue-and-white faithful overtook the Linc and turned the place into a virtual Penn State home game. Not this year. Temple's improvement in the standings has led to renewed interest in the team. The parking lots were stuffed with Owls fans, who tailgated and belted out the fight song hours before kickoff. Still, the game was well short of a sellout and the white shirts that colored large chunks of the stadium made it look like a signature Happy Valley "Whiteout."
Temple announced a paid total of 57,323 fans.
The Owls opened like a team playing for a BCS bowl berth, pressuring Rob Bolden and rattling ball carriers that set an early tone. It was clear that they wouldn't be pushovers. They got it done on offense early, with Gerardi connecting to Deon Miller for 33 yards that set up Bernard Pierce's 2-yard score and a 7-0 lead.
McGloin replaced Bolden in the second quarter and led the Nittany Lions on a tying scoring drive, capped by Redd's 17-yard scoring run.
Redd ran straight into the Temple red — the end zones were painted red and inscribed with "TEMPLE" on one end and "OWLS" on the other.Comment on this story
The makeover might not seem like a big deal at most college powerhouses, but Temple had never before used painted end zones at the stadium they share with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Brandon McManus put the Owls, 10-7, ahead with a 40-yard field goal with 37 seconds left in the half.
Penn State's Sam Ficken had his 49-yard tying attempt blocked by Shahid Paulhill as time expired to help the Owls take a lead into halftime — and set the stage for a historic win.
But the Nittany Lions had other ideas.