Freshman Craig Fayak kicked a game-winning 34-yard field goal with four seconds remaining Saturday, rallying No. 14 Penn State to a 24-21 victory over top-ranked Notre Dame that likely ended Irish chances for a national title.
Darren Perry intercepted a Rick Mirer pass and returned it 20 yards to the Notre Dame 19-yard line three plays before Fayak's deciding kick, which gave the Nittany Lions their only lead of the game.Tony Sacca completed 22 of 34 passes for a career-best 277 yards and three touchdowns as Penn State, 8-2, won its eighth straight game.
Sacca completed passes of 20 and 24 yards to set up a 14-yard touchdown pass to Al Golden that tied the game at 21-21 with 7:15 to play. Sacca, who ran right and threw back across the field on the scoring play, had a previous best of 243 yards in losses to Texas and Southern Cal earlier this season.
Orange Bowl officials have said they planned to invite the Fighting Irish, 8-2, to face Colorado on New Year's Day no matter how they fared in their final two games. Colorado, a 64-3 winner over Kansas State, is likely to move from No. 2 into the top spot in Sunday's UPI Coaches Poll.
No. 3 Miami, which also looks to move up despite an earlier loss to the Fighting Irish, complained when Notre Dame wanted a firm deal with the Orange Bowl before their season ended, a stance that forced Miami to commit to a Cotton Bowl appearance.
Notre Dame's Raghib Ismail caught four passes for 76 yards, ran five times for 22 yards and returned a punt 11 yards but was sidelined the entire second half with a bruised thigh.
The Fighting Irish dominated the first half but struggled without Ismail, gaining just 76 second-half yards. Mirer completed just 1 of 9 passes for 21 yards in the second half and threw two interceptions to set up Penn State scores.
Penn State linebacker Mark D'Onofrio intercepted a Mirer pass and returned it 38 yards to the Notre Dame 11. Three plays later, Rick Sayles beat freshman cornerback Jeff Burris to the rear left corner of the end zone.
Sayles bobbled the pass from Sacca, but grasped the ball just before stumbling out of bounds, scoring with 32 seconds remaining in the third quarter to pull the Nittany Lions within 21-14.
Mirer's 1-yard touchdown dive five minutes before halftime gave the Fighting Irish a 21-7 lead at halftime, capping a 16-play, 92-yard drive that lasted 6:55. Notre Dame kept the ball 20:35 of the first half, converting on 12 of 13 third-down situations.
Notre Dame inflicted a game's worth of punishment on the Nittany Lions in the first half, scoring as many points as Penn State had given up in any game this season. The Fighting Irish rushed 38 times for 151 yards against a defense that had allowed an average of only 85.6 yards a game.
Mirer completed 7 of 12 first-half passes for 140 yards, with four completions converting third downs and two others following first-down sacks.
An extra effort by receiver Terry Smith gave Penn State its first points, completing a 32-yard pass play. Smith caught a pass behind cornerback Todd Lyght, used his hand to hold himself off the ground and spun before falling into the front corner of the end zone. That pulled the Nittany Lions within 14-7 with 4:29 left in the first quarter.
The Fighting Irish marched 63 yards in nine plays after the opening kickoff, scoring first on Ricky Watters' 22-yard cutback run left just 4:21 into the game.
Notre Dame's defense kept the Nittany Lions to one yard in three plays and forced a punt on the next series.