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Penn State Football: The Top 10 Wins In Beaver Stadium History

by on October 13, 2013 11:59 PM

The iPhone message was time-stamped at 3:33 a.m. Sunday – Budapest time. It read: “Holy crap!”

And it came from movie producer Gerry Abrams, who was in Budapest, shooting a “Houdini” mini-series with Adrian Brody -- 4,513 miles from Beaver Stadium. 

But the 1961 Penn State grad and dad of Hollywood mastermind J.J. Abrams couldn’t believe what had happened in Saturday’s game between the Nittany Lions and Michigan, won 43-40 by PSU in four overtimes.

(J.J.'s “Lost,” Star Trek” and “Mission Impossible” titles were certainly apropos for Saturday's instant classic.)

“So,” Gerry emailed me later, always thinking big box office, “where would you say this win ranks?”

“Good question,” I emailed back. "Let me see what I can do." So, at Gerry's suggestion, I got to work on making a list of Penn State’s top home field victories since 1960, when Beaver Field was moved to the east end of campus and became Beaver Stadium. (Funny, though, he didn't say anything about securing the movie rights to Saturday's game.)

After pouring through media guides, clippings, books and magazines, I shipped my completed list off to Fran Fisher and Lou Prato, the two guys who rank 1-2 -- or is it 2-1? --  on the all-time list of Penn State Football Smart Guys.

I took their counsel under strong advisement, but the final list – “Make your own mistakes,” was Fran’s message – is mine. We agreed on four of the top 6 games and both of them had the 1982 Nebraska game No. 1. I had it second, after Saturday’s game. Who am I to challenge a century-plus of Penn State knowledge? So, Nebraska it is.

In some ways, that 27-24 Penn State victory was similar to the Penn State win over Michigan in four OTs: A highly-respected opponent, a fourth-quarter touchdown drive to save the day (78 seconds in ’82, 23 seconds in ’13), a big comeback (down 14 in ’82, down 10 in ’13), an amazing catch along the east sideline, just shy of the south end zone (Mike McCloskey – in or out? -- in ’82, Allen Robinson in ’13) and rosters that featured both a Warner and a Garrity.

The Top 10 Wins In Beaver Stadium History

No matter what the order, Nebraska '82 and Michigan '13 were wins for the ages. My list:

1. Penn State 27, Nebraska 24; Sept. 25, 1982 – The Drive, The Catch (by McCloskey), PSU was ranked No. 8, Nebraska No. 2. Without this win, Penn State would have never won its first national championship, since it then had to absorb a loss to Alabama the very next week and hold on for a 10-1 regular season record.

2. Penn State 43, Michigan 40; Oct. 12, 2013 – A record four-overtime OT win, Homecoming, that 23-second drive, the best sustained stadium crowd ever, a limited squad size.

3. Penn State 17, Ohio State 10; Oct. 8, 2005 – A raucous WhiteOut and a huge win. Prato: “I put Ohio State 2005 ahead of Ohio State 2001 because it was a turning point from those three of four losing seasons by placing PSU back in the elite.

4. Penn State 29, Ohio State 27; Oct. 27, 2001 – Joe Paterno’s Win No. 324, moving him ahead of Alabama’s Bear Bryant as the winningest coach in major college football history. Penn State’s 18-point comeback, triggered by quarterback Zack Mills in relief with 280 passing and 138 rushing yards, was at the time the biggest at home for a Paterno-coached squad. Mills’ 69-yard TD run, where he hurdled a teammate and watched the video to check for approaching OSU tacklers, is a Penn State classic.

5. Penn State 24, Wisconsin 21; Nov. 24, 2012 – Penn State ended the 2012 season with a win in overtime for an emotional senior day for a group that held the program together. Injured Michael Mauti’s No. 42 was placed on the side of every Penn State player’s helmet. Prato and Fisher ranked this high, and Prato says, with a shameless plug: “I would place that above last night's game because of what it meant. They lose to Wisconsin, there is no truly remarkable season, no coach of the year, and no recently published book titled, ‘We Are Penn State: The Remarkable Journey of the 2012 Nittany Lions.’ ”

6. Penn State 10, Illinois 7; Oct. 29, 2011 – The victory in miserable weather, thanks in large part to a last-minute missed Illini field goal, gave Paterno Win No. 409 – making him the winningest coach in Division I college football. At the time, no one knew it would be his last game or what would transpire just a week later.

7. Penn State 35, Northwestern 21; Nov. 6, 2010 -- PSU roared back from a 21-point first-half deficit and scored 35 consecutive points to give Paterno 400 victories as Matt McGloin threw for four touchdowns, the first that culminated a 91-yard drive that took just 47 seconds to end the first half.

8. Penn State 63, Ohio State 14; Oct. 29, 1994 – Homecoming, and No. 1 Penn State beat No. 21 Ohio State in a shock-and-awe performance that showed the sheer power and glory of the 1994 Nittany Lions.

9. Penn State 19, Pitt 10; Nov. 26, 1982 – A classic Penn State-Pitt battle that, at the time, was one of college football’s greatest rivalries. No. 2 PSU beat No. 5 Pitt, with Dan Marino, to earn a spot in the 1983 Sugar Bowl to play No. 1 Georgia. We all know how that turned out.

10. Penn State 39, Northwestern 28; Oct. 6, 2012 – Homecoming and the second 2012 game on the list, tying the 1982 season for top spots. Led by McGloin’s two TD passes and a 5-yard scoring run to go with his 282 passing yards, PSU scored 22 points in the fourth quarter and came from 11 points down to win.

Honorable Mention, in chronological order:

Penn State 13, N.C State 8; Nov. 11, 1967 – a Fisher special; a nail-biter that was just the second home game into start of 33-game unbeaten streak.

Penn State 28, Army 24; Nov. 2, 1968 – Fisher again: a narrow Homecoming win nine games in the aforementioned streak.

Penn State 17, Pitt 10; Nov. 24, 1978 – PSU goes 11-0, sets up Sugar Bowl.

Penn State 38, Minnesota 20; Sept. 4, 1993 – first Big Ten Conference game.

Penn State 38, Southern Cal 14; Sept. 10, 1994 – big early W of 12-0 season vs. a big name opponent.

Penn State 40, Nebraska 7; Sept. 14, 2002 – against the No. 8 Huskers, the all-time Beaver Stadium attendance record (110,753).

Penn State 46, Michigan 17; Oct. 18, 2008 – Breaks nine-game losing skid vs. Wolverines.

Special Mention: Sept. 1, 2001 – Pre-game ceremonies of the season-opener vs. No. 2 Miami. When Adam Taliaferro, paralyzed the season before in a game at Ohio State, jogged out of the south end zone tunnel, there was and never will be a more electric moment in Beaver Stadium. Penn State lost 33-7 to Miami, but Taliaferro – now a member of Penn State’s Board of Trustees -- won the hearts and admiration of Penn Staters then and forever.

Related stories:

Penn State Football: How Big is a Win Over Michigan?

Penn State Football: Nittany Lions beat Michigan, 43-40, in Four Overtimes

Penn State Football: Handing Out The Grades Following Penn State's 43-40 Victory Over Michigan

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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