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Penn State vs. Nebraska, 11.10.12

Oh, this movie again. Have you tired of it yet? Maybe not if the ending keeps coming out like this.

“I promise you we don’t plan it," said Husker freshman running back Imani Cross. "It’s something that just happens."

Cross couldn't keep the grin off his face as he said it. You can smile when you did what Nebraska did Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

The Huskers did what they have come to specialize in: falling behind, causing fans to say words that make mom reach for the soap, seeming to be on the edge of failure, and then ... winning. Again.

They came back from double digits in the second half. Again. The fourth time in the last six games.

Yep, from two touchdowns down to 32-23 victors against a Penn State team that will no doubt be analyzing a controversial goal-line call like the Zapruder film in the days to come.

"Happy to get out of here with a win," said Husker coach Bo Pelini, whose challenge to his team Oct. 6 after the Ohio State loss was to win six straight.

"That's four down," he said. "We've got two more to go."

It was a play halfway through the fourth quarter that was probably the game's biggest. Certainly it will be the most talked about.

Nebraska had just gone ahead for the first time, taking a 27-23 lead when Taylor Martinez hit Jamal Turner for a 5-yard touchdown.

But plucky Penn State showed the resolve it has all season, mounting an immediate response.

The Nittany Lions were 3 yards from regaining the lead when quarterback Matt McGloin swung a pass to tight end Matt Lehman.

Lehman appeared destined for a touchdown, but Nebraska linebacker David Santos made the play of his young career, knocking the ball loose right at the goal line. Nebraska recovered in the end zone.

Officials ruled it a fumble. They reviewed the play. It was close, but the call stood.

Nebraska fans roared. The Nittany Lions seethed.

"We're not going to get that call here," McGloin said. "We're not going to get that call ever, against any team. It doesn't matter who the referees are. We'll never get that called."

It was a close call, Husker coaches and players freely admitted after the game.

But in their view, it wasn't necessarily the wrong call.

"Something that is that bang-bang usually ends up going how they ruled it on the field," Pelini said.

Nebraska gladly accepted the decision, but knew victory was far from secured.

The Huskers helped their cause by tacking two more points on the board, when McGloin was called for intentional grounding in the end zone because of pressure by Nebraska defensive end Cameron Meredith.

The Nebraska defense, sometimes looking confused in the first half while giving up 255 yards, found its groove late.

When Penn State got the ball at its 20-yard line down six points with 3:44 to play, the Huskers played their best ball of the day, holding the Nittany Lions to five yards in four plays.

That was it. A field goal by Brett Maher with 23 seconds left put it to bed.

At that point, the Huskers are hardly surprised by their ability to rally.

"We have a lot of heart," said Martinez, who finished with 275 yards of offense. "We know that we can come back from anything."

That said, Martinez acknowledged that "we need to start getting ahead early."

Nebraska wasn't good in any phase of the game early, trailing 20-6 by halftime.

If you think there were paint-peeling speeches in the locker room during the break, you'll be disappointed.

“Calm locker room. Business-like. Very matter-of-fact," said defensive coordinator John Papuchis. "Just talk about what we have to get better at and fix it. There’s really nothing you’re going to gain by screaming like a lunatic."

The Huskers quickly turned the game around, going 75 yards in eight plays to score on the first drive of the third quarter.

Then senior safety Daimion Stafford stepped in front of a McGloin pass a few plays later and returned it 22 yards to the Nittany Lion 4.

Cross scored his second touchdown two plays later. Just like that, tie game.

"In the back of my mind, I was hoping that we could get even by the fourth quarter," Pelini said. "To pull even ... basically within the first six minutes (of the second half), was big for us psychologically."

It also helped that Nebraska won the turnover battle, a significant stat, considering Penn State came in tops in the league in turnover margin.

While not putting away Penn State until the final minute, the Huskers seemed to wear the Nittany Lions down in the second half, holding the ball for 8 1/2 minutes more.

Nebraska finished with the yardage advantage, outgaining Penn State 438-391.

On a day when Michigan pulled out a win vs. Northwestern to keep pace with the Huskers in the Big Ten Legends Division race, Nebraska wasn't about to consider its work done.

But sophomore wide receiver Kenny Bell said there should be some sense of pride about the past four wins, against Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State.

“Say whatever you want about the Big Ten Conference, to win the four games that we just won in the fashion that we won them, with the mental toughness that we played, I’m really proud of this football team," Bell said.

"Those are solid football clubs and that’s one heckuva gantlet on the schedule to get those four in a row and be sitting where we’re sitting now.”

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. You can follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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