It was gray and windy in the Nittany Valley, the sort of day some evil-hearted professor invariably schedules an exam.
And here was top-ranked Penn State with its biggest test of the season, behind by three points with five minutes to play, fourth down and 1 1/2 yards for a first down, four for a touchdown.
Confusion? Gobs of it. But no doubts about the decision, even though the place kicker began trotting onto the field. State wound up calling him off and going for it with a play called "40 pitch" that yielded the touchdown that led to a 17-10 victory over Pitt, and an 11-0 regular season.
We saw (Chris) Bahr run on," said Mike Guman, who scored the winning touchdown, "and we said: 'Go back. We want to win.' I'm not sure why he came on."
Bahr came on because Coach Joe Paterno was under the false impression that State needed four yeards for the first down. To make sure what was going on, Paterno ordered a time out and sent quarterback Chuck Fusina to determine the exact distance.
"Maybe I showed it a little short," Fusina admitted later. "But we'd come this far; we didn't want any ties. Our offensive linemen wanted to go for it - and they're very important."
On "40 pitch," Guman catches a short lateral from Fusina and follows pulling guard Eric Cunningham. If the guard smacks the Pitt end outside. Guman cuts inside and hopes his other blockers have eliminated enough other tacklers.
"I looked up," Guman said, "and saw a clear alley. It opened up pretty good - a nice lane you might say."
Guman is more smart than swift, but he had the first down with his second long stride after the cutback. Left tackle Keith Dorney, tight end Irv Pankey and fullback Matt Subey had done such fine work as escorts that Guman quickly made the end zone.
It allowed the Lions to extend their winning streak to 19 games and enter the Sugar Bowl New Year's Day with a chance for the first national championship in its history.
"It was kind of a blur in there, to tell the truth," Dorney said. "We were trying to keep our cool, but it was kinda hard."
Both defense played well and were aided by wind gusts of up to 25 miles per hour. Neither scored against the wind and Paterno was surprised Pitt chose to kick off after a 7-7 first half.
"That helped us," he said, referring to State's moving with the wind the fourth quarter. "But I guess they felt they had momentum. And we were fortunate to get out of the third quarter only down three."
With the wind, Guman scored from three yards in the first quarter and Pitt quarterback Rick Trocano hit Steve Gaustad with a 16-yard scoring pass in the second. Pitt's Mark Schubert missed a 28-yard field goal before scoring from 27 yards for a 10-7 lead.
State had a chance for a tie with 9:53 left but botched a field-goal attempt for two reasons & first when a dreadful snap precluded a kick and second when Guman dropped a fine pass from the holder, Bob Bassett. Ironically, State is touting Fusina for the Heisman Trophy, but it gained most of its important fourth-quarter yardage on the ground.
Sophomore Booker Moore ran well, as did Guman and Suhey. But when Fusina was forced to throw on the final 42-yard push he came up with a blazing fast ball to Brad Scovill, on a curl-in pattern State had not used this season.
After Fusina released the ball, Pitt's Dave Logan was caught for a late hit. So it was a 25-yard play, 15 on the pass and another 10 for the penalty, to the Pitt 12.
Guman got six yards on the play that would get the touchdown, was stopped for no gain on second down and gained all but the final 1 1/2 yards to the four on third down. Then it was time to see if Paterno would follow his never-play-for-the-tie instincts once again.
He would. But the risk was not all that great, because even if Guman failed to gain the first down State was in excellent position to regain possession well inside the 5-yard line.
After Guman's second touchdown Bahr kicked a 38-yard field goal to set an NCAA record for single-season successes, 22. And the defense kept Pitt safely in its own territory.
"We said to ourselves, 'Here's our season, fourth-and-one,'" said Cunningham of State's play of the season.
"We said we weren't going to be stopped - and we weren't."