I have never been in combat or done drugs so why do I have so many flashbacks? If I knew the answer I could probably stop them. Today’s flashback takes up back to this day in 1999. Purdue was coming off a huge win over #5 Michigan State at home. Our program was flying at a level that we had not seen in a long time. I had never seen it before. The students that week on campus were buzzing about #2 Penn State coming to town. After writing about the high of beating Michigan State last week I thought I would share the low of losing to Penn State this week.
I was buzzing for a different reason. I may have imbibed too many adult beverages. To me that weekend has two categories that separate it. The first was that my father came down for the game. People have always said that he looked like Joe Tiller so we had a sign waiting outside for his group that said “Welcome Joe Tiller.” As people walked by our apartment on Wood Street they kept asking “is Joe Tiller coming?” Of course we answered yes. People would kind of linger around a bit waiting for him. This was my dad’s first Boiler game, and he still talks about that day. I got him tickets next to the student section, and to this day he talks about the beer bottles and other items that were flying around. We were a rowdy bunch then. I really don’t know how we got that much stuff into the stadium.
Of course the second part of the day was the huge game between the #16 Boilers and the #2 Penn State Nittany Lions. The big man in the Big Ten that year was LaVar Arrington who went on to a decent NFL career. We had our main man Drew Brees who was nearing his current God status among Boiler Alumns. This was one of those games that is great to attend. The atmosphere is electric, and was even more so in 1999 because we were hungry for wins.
Purdue struck first when Sedrick Brown scored on a two yard run. The run was set up by a nice draw by Brees. That 80 yard Boiler drive accounted for the first touchdown against the Nittany Lions all season in the first quarter. Purdue stopped Penn State from scoring in the first quarter for the first time all season. Things evened up in the second quarter when Arrington sacked Brees, forced a fumble, and returned that fumble for a score. What a crushing play. Purdue has the ball on the 20 yard line, Brees is hit by Arrington at the ten yard line, and the ball rolled to the two setting up the two yard fumble recovery. Arrington was just a beast on the day, and I rooted against him every time I saw him play in the NFL after this game. Donald Winston put the Boilers back up seven in the second quarter when he caught a short pass from Brees for a score immediately after the fumble. Brees really threaded the needle on that touchdown pass to Winston. The big play of that drive was a nice catch and run by Chris Daniels. After the touchdown we forced a three and out for Penn State. Antoine Neal fumbled the punt which was recovered on the 43. Three plays later Penn State had tied the score. Purdue went into the half tied with Penn State 14-14. Both of Penn State’s scores were direct results of turnovers. Travis Dorsch already missed one field goal, and had one blocked by LaVar Arrington (yup him again). If we had cut out the mistakes Purdue takes a 20-0 lead into the half. Instead the second half started with both teams even.
The second half started badly when Kevin Thompson threw a 78 yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage in the second half. How deflating is that to immediately be down seven starting the half? The score stayed the same until Courtney Brown made a very athletic interception on a bubble screen pass, and ran it back 25 yards for the score. In the math I still use to this day we should have had some room for error in the second half, but instead we were quickly down fourteen. The beauty of those days though was the never say die attitude that the team displayed. They moved the ball right down the field, and kicked a field goal. Ralph Turner forced Penn State to fumble the ball, and then scored a touchdown. Brees completed a pass to Randall Lane who scored the touchdown, and then completed a shovel pass to Lane for a successful two point conversion. After that touchdown and two point conversion the scored sat at 28-25. The only scoring in the fourth quarter was a 24 yard field goal by Penn State to bring the score to 31-25. The Boiler D really stepped it up on that drive to force the field goal. Penn State had the ball inside the ten yard line after a 45 yard run. Purdue was driving again with just over three minutes left when they fumbled the ball away yet again. Thankfully Penn State missed a field goal that would have put the game out of reach for the Boilers who got the ball back with just under a minute remaining. Missed opportunities and giveaways were the words of the day.
The final Purdue drive sticks in my head to this day. Purdue got the ball back with :58 seconds left on the clock. After an incompletion to start the drive Brees completed three straight passes for 19, 18, and 16 yards respectively to get the Boilers to the Penn State 12 yard line. Drew’s first attempt from the twelve was deflected at the line. A fade to Lane right in front of the student section was out of bounds. After buying some time on third down Brees was forced to throw the ball out of the back of the end zone. The fourth down play still haunts me to this day. Purdue was lined up on the hash closest to the student section. He stepped back and threw the ball away from us, and right at the seats I now sit in. The ball sailed over Chris Daniels head out of bounds to end the game. I was so upset that we could not capitalized from the 12. Every time I see that end zone I think of that play. And like I said I sit right in front of that end zone every game. It was a hard fought game, but Purdue should have won.
To add insult to injury I got stuck in the biggest traffic jam I have ever seen on campus leaving the game. That delayed the post game drinking that I had planned to do. This game will always be one of those should have beens.