Penn State Finally Gets Its Kick

Times Staff Writer

This was not one for the ages. Nor for the aged.

With 79-year-old Joe Paterno and 76-year-old Bobby Bowden on the sidelines, the Orange Bowl on Tuesday night was supposed to be an illustration of the vitality of two septuagenarian coaches.

They probably both felt a little older by the end.

Through three overtimes, the Penn State and Florida State kickers took turns missing game-winning field goals, misfire after incredible misfire, until Penn State kicker Kevin Kelly finally made a 29-yard field goal to put a merciful 26-23 end to an Orange Bowl that was as packed with errors as it was with game-ending drama.

When Paterno and Bowden met at midfield to speak to ABC television after the game finally ended at 12:59 a.m. Eastern, Paterno got the first word.

"It's past my bedtime," he said.

And when the old friends were asked if it inspired them to consider retirement after all, they could only laugh.

One season after there were calls for Paterno to step aside, he brought the No. 3 Nittany Lions back to an 11-1 season, marred only by a loss on the last play to Michigan and the mistake-filled yet victorious performance in Dolphins Stadium.

The final drama started when Penn State's Kelly missed a field goal attempt from 29 yards with the score tied, 16-16, at the end of regulation.

On the first possession of overtime, Florida State's Gary Cismesia missed from 44. Then Kelly missed again, from 38, on Penn State's first overtime attempt.

Both teams managed touchdowns in the second overtime--and then it was back to the foot of Cismesia, who missed from 38 to start the third.

Finally, mercifully, Kelly came through, ending a game that had 20 punts.

For No. 22 Florida State (8-5) it was another chapter in the bizarre history of wide left, wide right, kicks made and kicks missed.

Somewhat obscured in all the craziness at the end was an extraordinary exhibition of punt returns by Florida State's Willie Reid.

Penn State was leading, 7-0, during what had been a dull first half when Reid woke up the crowd by fielding a punt at the 13, finding a hole in the middle and outracing Penn State defenders for an 87-yard touchdown, setting an Orange Bowl record.

It was his third punt return for a touchdown this season -- and his second 80-yard-plus return for a touchdown in two games: He had an 83-yard touchdown return against Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game.

By the end of the game, he had set a record for punt return yardage in any bowl game with 180 yards on seven returns. (The previous record was set by Boise State's Quinton Jones this season with 151 punt return yards in the MPC Computers Bowl, breaking the record of 136 set by Nebraska's Johnny Rodgers in the 1971 Orange Bowl.)

That didn't make Reid or the Seminoles feel much better afterward.

"It's a real tough loss," Reid said. "We had a lot of penalties and didn't do a lot of things well. But this was a classic game between two great coaches."

Bowden and Paterno each have won two national championships, and Bowden leads all major college coaches with 359 victories. Paterno has 354 after picking up one at his friend's expense.

Though it seemed as if Penn State probably would win for much of the game, Florida State tied the score, 16-16, with 4:08 left in the fourth quarter on a 48-yard field goal by Cismesia, capping a long drive that began when Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson fumbled at the Seminole four-yard line.

Cismesia's field goal erased a Penn State lead built on his own earlier missed extra point and a Penn State safety after Florida State quarterback Drew Weatherford was called for intentional grounding in the end zone.

There was another development perhaps lost in the shuffle at the end: an injury to Penn State junior linebacker Paul Posluszny, a top NFL prospect, who was helped off the field in the fourth quarter while not putting any weight on his right leg.

"They think he has some ligament problems, but they're going to do an MRI on him to find out just how serious it might be," Paterno said.

For now, Penn State is celebrating.

"It means a lot," Penn State quarterback Robinson said. "Coach Paterno took a lot of criticism. I can't believe people wanted him to leave this good team we have here."

Paterno didn't fuss about style points.

"We got it. I'm going to take it," he said.

"I thought it was a heck of a football game."

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