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Mike Cerimele graded out nearly perfect following Penn State's 1998 win at Pitt. He blocked better than he had all year, scored his fourth touchdown in three games, even recovered a fumble in the end zone.
Trouble was, the fumble belonged to him. After being stripped of the football at the goal line, Cerimele wrestled the ball from a Pitt defender because, if he didn't, the Central Catholic graduate knew what was coming Monday. But it came anyway.
''I remember that high-pitched voice: 'If you ever do that again, you'll never see another down here,''' Cerimele, the director of Velocity Sports Performance in Allentown, recalled Wednesday. ''So I can relate to what Austin's going through.''
Certainly, Austin Scott has become reacquainted with the high-pitched voice of Penn State coach Joe Paterno. The fifth-year senior has fumbled four times in his last three games, including a critical third-quarter turnover in the Lions' 14-9 loss to Michigan last Saturday.
Scott did not play again in the game, and Paterno has not announced Scott's status for Saturday's visit to Illinois. But those around him say that the only thing worse than fumbling is lingering over it.
''The last thing you do is put your head down,'' said Rob Melosky, Scott's former coach at Parkland. ''It can only get better, right?''
Paterno this week said that he ''hates to give up on'' Scott, who has five touchdowns and a 4.4 yards-per-carry average in four games. But he also gave no public indication of how much Scott would play this week or in the future.
''He's been very conscientious about wanting to overcome the fact that he's put the ball on the ground a couple of times,'' Paterno said. ''I hate to give up on him. He's been a good kid, he's worked hard, he's been patient. I think he deserves every chance we can give him to prove that he belongs in there.''
Scott's first fumble came in the first quarter against Notre Dame, which led 7-0 at the time. A defensive stop prevented that from becoming an issue.
The next week he lost the ball twice against Buffalo: one on a snap exchange, another after being hit. Paterno replaced Scott, who gained a measure of redemption with a 40-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Against Michigan, Scott lost the ball at the Michigan 9-yard line, ending Penn State's best offensive drive of the game (he nearly fumbled earlier in the series). When Rodney Kinlaw needed a breather following a 38-yard run in the fourth quarter, Paterno sent in redshirt freshman Evan Royster instead of Scott.
After the game, Michigan safety Jamar Adams said, ''He had some problems fumbling before, so we wanted to go out there and try to get some turnovers off of him.''
Teammates said that Scott practiced well this week, making sure to do extra ball-security drills. But, as fullback Matt Hahn said, ''In practice you don't have have guys flying across the field 20 yards hitting the ball with their helmets.''
''Obviously, he's disappointed in his performance the last two weeks, putting the ball on the turf as many times as he has,'' center A.Q. Shipley said. ''Right after the game, his confidence was low, but people have been talking to him. You have to stay positive.''
Melosky, the offensive coordinator at Bethlehem Catholic, said he warned Scott before the season about trying too hard. He said he would offer the same advice now.
''He probably feels as if the sands in the hourglass are falling in his career, and every time he touches the ball he has to make something happen,'' Melosky said. ''Hopefully, he can prove himself again. Hopefully, they give him a chance and give him the ball.''