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No. 4 Penn State keeps toehold on victory streak, 24-23


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- After a season of gaudy blowouts and weekly overkill, the other shoe dropped for Penn State yesterday.

An offense that averaged 48 points a game in 1994 was fortunate to get half that against unranked Texas Tech, but the fourth-ranked Nittany Lions made it stand up for a 24-23 victory in their season opener.

In the process, 96,034 Beaver Stadium patrons were reminded just how good last year's unbeaten Penn State team was.

"We lost some great players, but this team is not looking back," said split end Bobby Engram. "We're not going to hit home runs and make great plays every time. But we'll put points on the board."

Ki-Jana Carter, Kerry Collins and Kyle Brady -- focal points of last year's offensive juggernaut -- are in the NFL now. Yesterday, the Lions won not so much with offense as with defense, not so much with heroes as with survivors.

The list of survivors included place-kicker Brett Conway, quarterback Wally Richardson and Engram. Conway atoned for two missed field-goal attempts to kick a game-winning 39-yarder with four seconds left -- something he never had to attempt a year ago.

Richardson, making his second career start and first since replacing Collins, operated a scattershot passing game, but had enough nerve to direct the game-winning, 58-yard scoring drive.

And Engram handed Texas Tech two touchdowns in the first half with fumbled punts, only to come back in the second half for seven catches worth 106 yards. He moved past receivers coach Kenny Jackson to become Penn State's career leader in receiving yards with 2,048.

"If you can't rebound from making mistakes, you're no good to the team," Engram said.

Penn State had plenty of practice bouncing back in this game. A year ago, the Lions lost four fumbles all season. Against Texas Tech, they lost three in the first half, including one on an ill-conceived reverse from their own goal line. The Red Raiders cashed in immediately when tailback Mike Archie lost the ball and linebacker Shawn Banks fell on it in the end zone.

A year ago, Penn State's first-unit offensive line allowed three sacks all season. In one afternoon against Tech's swarming, blitzing defense, Penn State gave up three.

"Everybody expects everything to be -- BOOM -- crisp all the time," said Richardson, who completed 18 of 31 passes for 195 yards. "It takes a little time for us to get back in the swing of things."

Everybody except for Penn State coach Joe Paterno, that is.

"I've been concerned about our offense, concerned about our precision," Paterno said after Penn State stretched its winning streak to 18 games, longest in Division I-A. "We may have had to play some kids too long, and I think we got tired."

The Lions had a modest 132 net rushing yards (Archie led with 76) and 327 total yards, but held a whopping 15-minute advantage in time of possession.

Their comeback began with a gift. One play after rush end Terry Killens recovered a Bryon Hanspard fumble at the Tech 3, Jon Witman ran through a gaping hole on the right side to cut the deficit to 20-14.

Richardson went to Engram three times in the air and once on a run to put Penn State ahead 21-20. It was Engram's spectacular 21-yard catch along the sideline -- getting one foot down before going out of bounds -- that set up a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Keith Olsommer.

The Raiders got a clutch 42-yard field goal from Tony Rogers -- Jaret Greaser earlier had missed an extra point that ultimately proved decisive -- to take a 23-21 lead with 6:39 left.

Then Richardson took the Lions down field in a 14-play drive to set up Conway with time running out.

"I said earlier in the summer, every kicker wants the opportunity to have that kick," Conway said. "I think I was wrong. I'm not sure I want to do that again. My heart can't take it."

Conway, who missed from 49 and 37 yards, hooked his 39-yarder just inside the right upright. Four seconds from a major upset, the Raiders questioned the call.

"I asked the ref and he ignored me," Banks said. "I thought it was outside. It definitely wasn't inside."

Tech quarterback Zebbie Lethridge, who threw two touchdown passes, had a difficult time accepting the outcome.

"I'm really disappointed," he said. "I didn't look at them as the No. 4 team in the country. They're just another team. They've got the name and tradition. That's the difference."

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