A brilliant stand by the University of Alabama in the fourth quarter preserved a 14-7 victory over Penn State in the Sugar Bowl today and kept the Nittany Lions from winning the national championship.
The goal-line stand came after Penn State recovered a Crimson Tide fumble at Alabama's 19-yard line with seven minutes left in the game.
Alabama had third and five at its own 25-yard line and tried to run an option pitch from the I formation. It was a play Jeff Rutledge called at the line, "but Tony (Nathan) didn't check off," the quarterback said.
Rutledge's pitch hit an unsuspecting Nathan in the side and Joe Lally recovered the fumble for Penn State at the 19.
Three plays later, on second down from the six, Quarterback Chuck Fusina threw a short pass to Scott Fitzkee, but Alabama cornerback Don McNeal made a crunching hit at the one-yard line to keep Fitzkee out of the end zone.
On third down, Matt Suhey was stopped for no gain and on fourth down, Mike Guman was met by Krauss head on at the goal line and didn't get in. There was 6:39 left in the game.
The balloting for the national championship will not be completed until noon Tuesday and announced Wednesday, but the Crimson Tide, 11-1, and ranked No. 2 going into the game, looked as if they earned it today as they totally frustrated the previously unbeaten Nittany Lions.
Penn State, the steady team that supposedly would never beat itself, came awfully close to doing that today.
After Alabama's goal-line stand, the Tide could not muster a first down and was forced to punt. But the Lions were caught with 12 men on the field, costing them possession of the ball at the Alabama 20.
And Coach Joe Paterno's decision to call time out twice to stop the clock near the end of the first half backfired, eventually giving Alabama the time it needed to score its first touchdown.
Those blunders, coupled with a horrible day by Fusina, who was intercepted four times and sacked five times, made Alabama's job that much easier.
"I came to Alabama to play for Bear Bryant and to win the national championship," said linebacker Barry Krauss, the game's most valuable player. "Now, I've done both."
"Coach Bryant told us before we left Tuscaloosa that Penn State was physically tougher and mentally tougher than us and that we would have to play over our heads to win," said safety Murray Legg. "I don't know if he was serious or not, but it scared the hell out of us and got us worked up."
Of the fourth down key defensive play, Krauss said: "I kwas just running along behind the line, looking for the ball," Krauss said. "The line stacked them up, I read the play and went after him.
Alabama got touchdowns on a 30-yard pass from Jeff Rutledge to Bruce Bolton with eight seconds left in the first half and on an eight-yard run by Major Ogilvie with 21 seconds left in the third period.
Penn State scored in between on a 17-yard Fusina pass to Scott Fitzkee.
Ogilvie's touchdown was set up by a 62-yard punt return by Lou Ikner.
Penn State's score came five plays after Pete Harris intercepted a Rutledge pass.
Though the fourth period was scoreless, it had most of the day's excitement.
"I was just running along behind the line looking for the ball," Krauss said. "The line stacked them up, I read the play and went after him.
Guman said he never had a chance to try and leap into the end zone.
"I never took off," Guman said. "I didn't think I had to. He was just there."
Fusina was asked if he would rather have tried another play instead of those two dives into the heart of the iron-clad Alabama line.
"I thought Matt and Mike ran as hard as they could," he replied. "Basically, we go at you. It's our bread-and-butter style. We stayed with it. Their linebackers made the good plays."
Four plays later Alabama was forced to punt from its own eight and it looked like Penn State was back in business when Woody Umphrey's punt went off the side of his foot and out of bounds at the Alabama 20.
But Penn State was caught with 12 players on the field and the 15-yard penalty gave Alabama a first down and the game belonged to the Crimson Tide.
Confusion was the excuse Penn State had for the extra man on the field.
"We just blew it," Paterno said. "The kid just didn't come out when he was supposed to.
"We won one that way one time in a bowl game (1969 Orange Bowl) and now we blew one the same way. That's the first time we've had 12 men on the field probably in five years."
Alabama had ideal field position almost every time it touched the ball in the first half, gaining possession at its 20, 44, 34, 42, 48, the Penn State 41, the tide 47, and 20. The only time it could score was on that last possession and needed prompting from Paterno to do it.
Fitzkee got off a 52-yard punt with 1:11 left in the half to back up Alabama to its 20.
Penn State called two timeouts after short Alabama runs with the intent of getting the ball back in time to work into position for a Matt Bahr field goal.
Tony Nathan broke off a 30-yard sprint, however, and Alabama called a timeout of its own with 21 seconds left and the ball at the Penn State 37.
"They called the timeouts because they wanted the ball back," said Rutledge. "We were content to just run the clock out."
Once Nathan got Alabama into scoring range, though, it was a different story. Two plays later, Rutledge hit split end Bruce Bolton on a post pattern with a 30-yard touchdown pass.
Bolton, the third receiver Rutledge looked at on the play, beat Penn State's Karl McCoy with a diving catch of a low pass in the end zone.
Penn State, meanwhile, got only two first downs in the first half and got into Alabama territory twice, once at the 37 and once at the 49.
Penn State tied the score with 4:25 left in the third period after Pete Harris' interception gave it possession at the Alabama 48. It took Fusina five plays to get the touchdown. The big gainer was a 25-yard pass to get the Lions to the 19. Two plays later the Fusina-to-Fitzkee pass got the touchdown.
The game's eventual winning touchdown was started in motion when Legg sacked Fusina for an 11-yard loss on a safety blitz. Fitzkee was then forced to punt from his 23. Ikner took his 50-yard line-drive punt in stride and ran it back to the Penn State 11.
Four plays later, Alagama ran what Rutledged called a classic wishbone play. It was a triple option to the left. Rutledge made the pitch to Ogilvie at just the right time and he steamed into the end zone.
When it was all over and Bryant, winner of four previous national championships, could relax, he said, "I'm prouder of this team than any team I've coached, but I'll be even prouder when we are finally voted national champions, because we are the national champions, you know."