By Times staff writers and wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 1, 2002
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State coach Joe Paterno didn't like his team's attitude during a close first half against Central Florida. Paterno was considerably more pleased by the middle of the fourth quarter.
The Nittany Lions scored 17 unanswered points in the second half, then withstood a late charge by the Knights to win 27-24 Saturday in the season opener for both teams.
"I was a little disappointed with our enthusiasm in the first half. It looked like we were flat," Paterno said. "We were ahead 10-9, and some guys were acting like we were behind."
Anthony Adams recovered a fumbled snap on the Central Florida 22-yard line early in the third to set up a field goal. After a short punt, Penn State had first down at the Knights 45, and Tony Johnson caught a 21-yard touchdown from Zack Mills to give the Nittany Lions a 20-9 lead.
"The third quarter was a catastrophe," Central Florida coach Mike Kruczek said. "We shortened the field for the defense, and (Penn State) performed spectacularly."
The win was No. 328 for Paterno, who leads the all-time list. He remains three ahead of Bobby Bowden, who climbed to 325 when Florida State beat Virginia.
Ryan Schneider completed 32 of 46 passes for 345 yards with one touchdown and one interception to lead Central Florida. Doug Gabriel caught 11 passes for 153 yards.
Mills was 13-for-20 for 194 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
"He made some big throws and handled the option well," Paterno said. "He kept that baby till the last minute, and then got it out there."
Penn State showed its versatility in the fourth quarter, when Johnson and tight end Casey Williams each had 13-yard receptions and Mills gained 15 yards on a keeper. The drive ended when Paul Jefferson scored from 8 yards to make it an 18-point lead.
Derek Wake blocked a field-goal attempt by Central Florida early in the fourth quarter to delay the Knights' comeback.
Alex Haynes scored on a 2-yard run and Tavaris Capers caught a pass from Schneider for the two-point conversion to bring Central Florida to 27-17 with 3:23 left. The Knights then tried an onside kick, but Johnson caught it, and Penn State ran the clock to 1:28 before punting.
Central Florida went 80 yards on eight plays, scoring on a 6-yard pass from Schneider to Capers to get within 27-24 with 24 seconds left, but a second onside kick went into the hands of Bryant Johnson, and the Nittany Lions ran out the clock.
"They just kept eating away, a little bit, a little bit," Penn State safety Shawn Mayer said. "But we held on."
The win ended a run of season-opening losses by Penn State at two: 29-5 to Southern California in 2000, and 33-7 to Miami last year.
Penn State started out playing sloppily on both sides of the ball. Alex Haynes broke several tackles on a 20-yard run up the middle to set up Central Florida's first score, a 26-yard field goal by Matt Prater.
The Nittany Lions went ahead 10-3 on a 23-yard run by Larry Johnson and a short field goal from Robbie Gould, but Central Florida responded with two field goals by Prater -- including a 53-yarder with 1:09 left before halftime -- to get within a point.
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EDWARD WATERS 18, ST. AUGUSTINE 7: Tailback Leroy Woods rushed for a game-high 67 yards and 14 carries to lead the host Tigers of NAIA.
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