STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Northwestern failed its first big test of the season.
A week after returning to the Top 25 for the first time since 2008, the No. 24 Wildcats wasted an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter, giving up three touchdowns in the final 9:49 in a 39-28 loss Saturday to Penn State.
Quarterback Matt McGloin had the go-ahead score on a 5-yard touchdown run with 2:37 left after earlier throwing a 6-yard touchdown pass to Allen Robinson as the receiver dragged along the back line of the end zone.
Michael Zordich had a two-point conversion run to get Penn State within 28-25 before McGloins scramble across the front corner of the end zone sent the homecoming weekend crowd into a frenzy.
It was tough, safety Ibraheim Campbell said about the fourth quarter. Weve just got to find a way to make a play. Guys were out there for a while. The offense was out there the same as us. Weve just got to find a way to focus in, make a play and get off the field.
Penn State (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten) then stuffed Northwesterns last-gasp drive after Trevor Siemians pass for Kain Colter was tipped away on fourth down to help hand the Wildcats their first loss of 2012.
Things looked so good for Northwestern (5-1, 1-1) after Venric Marks 75-yard punt return for a touchdown with 50 seconds left in the third quarter demoralized the blue-and-white faithful for a 28-17 lead.
Mark also ran for a score and finished with 72 yards on 13 carries.
The Wildcats couldnt get to 6-0 for the first time in 50 years. Even worse for Northwestern, the loss continued a disturbing trend of second-half shortfalls against Penn State. The Wildcats had halftime leads in two of the previous three years before falling to the Nittany Lions.
This year, they couldnt hang on to an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter.
We didnt get their B game today; we got their A game, and we were toe to toe, jaw to jaw with them all the way to the end when we really lost it, Fitzgerald said.
Adding to his reputation as a bold play-caller, Penn State coach Bill OBrien decided to go for two after Robinsons fourth-quarter score. Zordich rumbled up the middle to get the Nittany Lions within three.
WISCONSIN 31, ILLINOIS 14: In Madison, Wis., Joel Stave threw two touchdown passes and the Badgers running game showed signs of life in defeating the Illini.
Stave threw for 254 yards for the Badgers (4-2, 1-1), who rushed for 173 yards – 96 coming in the fourth quarter.
The offensive struggles of the Illini (2-4, 0-2) continued, with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase the only positive. He finished with 178 yards passing and 84 rushing as Illinois gained 287 yards overall.
Scheelhaase ran for a 5-yard touchdown in the first quarter and threw for an 8-yard touchdown to Ryan Lankford to make it 24-14 late in the game.
But Jared Abberdaris fielded the ensuing onside kick, and Montee Ball scored his second touchdown of the game to snuff any hopes of an Illinois comeback.
Ball has 59 rushing TDs in his career, nine shy of the NCAA record. He finished with 19 carries for 116 yards.