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Blown call dominates talk of PSU loss, but Lions say it didn't decide game
November 11, 2012 - Cory Giger
(Editor's note: The Omaha World-Herald allowed the Mirror to use its goal-line photo, by Alyssa Schukar, in our print edition only. To view the photo online, click the link to the right.)
LINCOLN, Neb. -- A photo is supposed to be worth 1,000 words. The one linked at the right should have been worth seven points.
The image clearly shows that Penn State tight end Matt Lehman had the football secure in his hands when he extended it across the goal line.
"Yeah, no doubt," ABC broadcaster Sean McDonough said during Saturday's TV broadcast of the Nittany Lions' game at Nebraska.
Only it wasn't ruled a touchdown. The ball popped out of Lehman's hands on a bang-bang play at the goal line, Nebraska recovered in the end zone and Big Ten replay officials upheld the call on the field that it was a fumble rather than a TD.
The controversial call became the talk of Nittany Nation and outraged fans on social media sites all day Sunday, with many people blaming Penn State's 32-23 loss squarely on the officials.
Had it been ruled a touchdown, and with a successful extra point, the Lions would have scored seven points to take a 30-27 lead with 7:39 left in the game. Instead, the fumble preserved Nebraska's 27-23 lead, and the Cornhuskers shut down two Penn State drives in the closing minutes to win.
"It looked to us that the ball did cross the goal line," ABC's Chris Spielman said during the broadcast.
Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin expressed his frustration -- and even ignited talk of a conspiracy theory among Lions fans -- after the game when he said, "We're not going to get that call here. We're not going to get that call ever, actually, against any team. It doesn't matter who the refs are. That's the way it is."
The Mirror contacted the Big Ten on Sunday seeking comments about the controversial call and about the perceived conspiracy theory against Penn State. A Big Ten spokesman said Commissioner Jim Delany was not available for comment.
Penn State also had an important and questionable holding call on a punt go against it in a loss to Ohio State at Beaver Stadium two weeks ago. That, along with the call Saturday, has some fans believing the Big Ten has an agenda against Penn State because of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Lions coach Bill O'Brien was asked about the conspiracy theory notion and said, "We don't feel anyone's out to get us."
"I don't think anyone's biased toward if Penn State's going to get a call or not," center Matt Stankiewitch said. "I think the refs probably did the best that they could at that time. The call could have went either way. Sometimes I watched it on the screen I thought we were in, sometimes I didn't think we were in."
While many fans want to blame the officials, Penn State's players placed the blame squarely on their shoulders. The Lions led at the half, 20-6, but were outscored in the second half, 26-3.
"I've gotten a bunch of texts saying that he scored," PSU defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. "Maybe it might have been a bad call, but we shouldn't have been in that predicament anyway."
Whether the ball crossed the plane of the end zone or not, had Lehman not lost control of it, the Lions would have been facing third-and-inches at the goal line on the next play with a chance to take the lead.
Even if it had been a touchdown, it wouldn't have ensured a PSU victory. The Cornhuskers had been moving the ball effectively and would have had more than seven minutes -- going with the wind and with one of the Big Ten's best place-kickers -- to try and overcome what would have been a 30-27 deficit.
Penn State earlier had lost another fumble at the Nebraska 5-yard line, McGloin threw a costly interception to start the third quarter and the Lions' defense struggled against Cornhuskers' offense.
Because of all that, cornerback Stephon Morris didn't blame the officials, he blamed his own team for the loss.
"We put ourselves in that situation," Morris said.