UNIVERSITY PARK - With about six minutes to go Saturday night and Penn State trailing Michigan by a touchdown, a few fans were spotted beating the rush.
Talk about a bad call.
What they missed was the most exciting finish in Beaver Stadium history as the Nittany Lions stormed from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to beat the previously-unbeaten Wolverines, 43-40, in four overtimes.
"We kept the faith," PSU senior safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong said, adding the atmosphere reminded him of last year's overtime win over Wisconsin, except that "even that didn't hold up to this kind of game."
He paused and smiled.
"This was crazy."
Lion offensive tackle Donovan Smith said he was once in a two-overtime game in high school, but it wasn't televised nationally before 108,000.
"It was ridiculous out there," Smith said. "At one point, I couldn't breathe."
Smith and the entire Penn State camp are breathing much easier this morning. In addition to treating the first sellout of the year to a wildly entertaining show, the Nittany Lions could well have saved their season.
Coming off what Bill O'Brien admitted Saturday was "a bad loss" at Indiana, and facing the prospect of lugging a two-game losing streak through the open date and into unbeaten Ohio State, it was clear Penn State turned up its resolve for the Wolverines.
Defensive coordinator John Butler said schemes weren't changed as much as "we simplified what the focus should be."
The results, despite Michigan's point total, produced the Lions' best defensive effort of the year.
Some starting jobs were also put on the line, and Butler said it helped that former Lions Michael Robinson and Matt Millen met with the team earlier in the week with Robinson encouraging the coaches to "press the kick-tail button."
The Lions answered that challenge with their most intense first half of the year, and their resolve was strong enough to eventually overcome Zach Zwinak's deflating fumble at the outset of the third quarter that Michigan returned for a touchdown - sucking the air out of the stadium, taking a PSU possession and a 21-10 lead and turning it into a 24-3 Michigan splurge.
"Very resilient bunch of kids," O'Brien said.
A questionable pass-interference penalty sustained a Michigan possession late in the fourth quarter and allowed the Wolverines, up 34-27, to finally turn the ball back over to Penn State at the Lions' 20 with just 50 seconds and no timeouts remaining.
By engineering a touchdown drive that included three-straight completions to Allen Robinson (14 yards), Brandon Felder (29) and a 36-yard gem to Robinson to the Michigan 1 that set up the game-tying touchdown and amazing finish, Christian Hackenberg showed why he'll someday be working in the National Football League.
After Hackenberg's sneak tied the game, O'Brien debated going for the 2-point conversion to end it right there but changed his mind. He then watched/endured both teams' uneven field-goal kicking through three OTs taking matters into his own hands in the fourth extra period by going for it on fourth-and-1 at the Michigan 16.
"I felt it was time for somebody to win the game," he said.
It worked, and now the complexion of the season has suddenly changed with the Lions at 4-2 and riding their best win of the O'Brien tenure.
"It's a big win for us," he said. "You beat a Michigan team, a 5-0 team, at home, in four overtimes it's going to help you the rest of the year."
Not to mention boosting the radio ratings for those who got to their cars early - and kicked themselves the whole way home.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.