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Don't Let Trace McSorley's Incredible Performance Be Overshadowed by Loss

by on October 04, 2018 5:00 AM


“You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat.”  
― Roger Kahn, The Boys of Summer

Saturday night Penn State suffered a loss to Ohio State that some fans best described as catastrophic. With a double-digit lead and eight minutes to go, the 110,000 white-clad fans could taste the upset… Eight minutes later it was as though someone had shot the family dog on the field and they all had to witness it.

In the intervening time there have been days of debate about anything other than what the players did on the field. From a play call to a press conference and videos of a coach, fans and the police,  the focus shifted from the determined efforts of Penn State’s players. In our society’s thirst to criticize and find fault, we’re missing something.

Unfortunately those conversations draw attention away from quarterback Trace McSorley’s performance. Saturday night he was the best player on the field and his game was perhaps the greatest individual feat by a McSorley since John McSorley opened his bar on East 7th Street in New York City in 1854 (McSorley’s Old Ale House is still there).

He gave Ohio State fits all night and set the Penn State record for total offense in a game.  

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But the final score conspired against him.

Had Penn State kicked a game-winning field goal on the last drive, national sports talk radio would’ve put him at the head of the class in the Heisman Trophy race. But that is the bane of the player whose exceptional performance falls just short.

Thinking about McSorley’s night brought to mind other valiant Penn State efforts in defeat that are lost to time.

1. QB Todd Blackledge at Miami, 1981: On Halloween in Miami Todd Blackledge set a school record going 26 of 41 for 358 yards and 2 TDs. Penn State missed several field goals on a rain-soaked field and fell behind 17-0 before Blackledge rallied the team in the fourth quarter. But there would be no treats for the Nittany Lions this Halloween night as they fell 17-14.

2. LB Shane Conlan vs Oklahoma, January 1, 1986: In the Orange Bowl for the national championship, Penn State faced No. 2 Oklahoma’s wishbone offense and freshman QB sensation Jamelle Holieway. Holieway was the key to the OU offense, having rushed for 862 yards in just 7 starts. Shane Conlan played a hybrid stack defense shadowing Holieway all over the field and limiting him to just 1 yard rushing on 12 carries. Oklahoma managed just 12 first downs for the game, but the final score (25-10) and the national title went to the Sooners.

3. RB Blair Thomas vs Alabama, 1989: Penn State was riding a five-game win streak that included wins at Texas and Syracuse before No. 6 Alabama came to town. Thomas carried the ball 35 times for 160 yards. With the Nittany Lions trailing 17-16 on PSU’s final drive, when everyone knew he was getting the ball, Thomas carried roughly a dozen straight times to the Alabama 1. When Alabama blocked the game winning field goal Thomas’ ridiculous fourth-quarter performance was lost to time.

4. QB Zack Mills vs Iowa 2002: With 7:23 to go in the game Penn State trailed Iowa 35-13 and Penn Staters had started for the exits. In the next 7 minutes Mills marched Penn State on three drives covering 200 yards, culminating in three TD passes to tie the game. It was one of the most exciting seven minute spans in Beaver Stadium history. But Penn State fell in overtime, despite Mills’ record 399 yards passing and four TDs.

5. QB Michael Robinson at Michigan in 2005: Michael Robinson passed for 239 yards and ran for 67 more and two touchdowns. But what stands out is Robinson leading his team on an epic drive of over 80 yards to score the go-ahead TD with 55 seconds to go. That drive included converting on fourth-and-8 and Robinson’s TD when he broke two tackles inside the 5. But Michigan would score to win on the game’s last play. Had Penn State won, Robinson’s performance and that drive would’ve become the stuff of legend. Because of the loss, PSU fans focus on the extra time put back on the clock that helped Michigan.

Like the games listed above, Saturday night’s game was one of those nights fans will talk about for a long time. When you speak of that game give proper respect the back-and-forth competition between two determined teams of players who left everything on the field. And years from now remember to tip your hat to a gutsy performance by your quarterback who did all that he could to bring home an elusive victory.


State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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