MIAMI - This really was one for the ages.
For more than four hours, Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden paced the Orange Bowl sidelines, searching for offense and enduring one missed kick after another.
Finally, in the third overtime, at 1 a.m. Wednesday, Kevin Kelly made a 29-yard field goal, giving Paterno and Penn State a 26-23 victory over Bowden’s Florida State Seminoles.
“I told him we’re too old for this,” the 79-year-old Paterno said afterward. “It’s almost past my bedtime.”
And one of the most thrilling anyone’s ever seen.
Paterno had said he didn’t want the game to be about him and the 76-year-old Bowden, who rank 1-2 in career coaching victories. It turned out to be about missed opportunities, improbable twists, epic length — and nearly unbearable suspense.
Kelly missed field goal attempts of 29 and 38 yards that would have won the game. Paterno calmly patted the freshman’s back after the second miss, then sent him back onto the field for another try.
It was second down, and Paterno called for a fake field goal. But Florida State’s defensive alignment negated that idea.
Kelly kicked the winner instead.
“I still had my confidence,” Kelly said. “I don’t think I’ve ever missed three in a row.”
“When they pick the all-time missed field-goal coach, I’ll probably get the award,” Bowden said. “We’re masters at that.”
The No. 3-ranked Nittany Lions finished 11-1, with the only loss coming when they gave up a touchdown to Michigan on the game’s final play. Paterno’s best season in 11 years represented a big rebound after going 7-16 in 2003-04.
“Obviously this year has been one of the most rewarding,” Paterno said at the end of his 40th season in coaching. “To win this one this way at the end of the year is a great tribute to the kids and the coaching staff. So it’s a great feeling.”
No. 22 Florida State fell to 8-5, Bowden’s worst season since 1981. Also concluding his 40th season as a head coach, he tried to shrug off the defeat.
“I told my kids, what a great game that was to build going into next year,” Bowden said. “I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
Moments after the game ended, the two old friends came together, stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a crush of cameras and microphones and exchanged warm words.
“No animosity. No animosity. I mean that,” Bowden said.
“Both teams played so hard,” Paterno added.
“Both teams played as well as they could play,” Bowden replied.
In a bowl season that started before Christmas and has included plenty of lackluster affairs, this one really was worth staying up for. And it served as a perfect warmup to the biggest game yet: No. 1 USC vs. No. 2 Texas in the Rose Bowl on Wednesday.
Florida State mostly contained Big Ten MVP Michael Robinson, who threw a touchdown pass with six seconds left in the first half but was limited to 253 yards passing and 21 rushing. One scrum knocked off his helmet.
He hit two clutch completions to give Penn State a chance to win the game in regulation. But Kelly, hampered by a shaky hold, was wide left on a 29-yard field goal attempt with 35 seconds left.
Cismesia kicked a 48-yard field goal with 4:08 left in regulation to tie the game at 16-all, but on the first series of overtime he was wide right on a 44-yard attempt.
Then it was Kelly’s turn. He again pushed a try wide left, this time a 38-yarder with a perfect hold.
CFT: Former Penn State signalcaller Steven Bench joined the South Florida Bulls, he announced on Twitter.
CFT: The University of Nevada is honoring longtime coach Chris Ault, who stepped down in the fall, by renaming the school's football field after him.
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