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October 15, 2011UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Danny Hope oftentimes has referred to special teams as Purdue's "edge" in games.
And with consistent weapons Carson Wiggs and Cody Webster, big-play potential in returner Raheem Mostert and steady hands in Waynelle Gravesande, the unit has mostly provided that lift for the Boilermakers this season.
Wiggs missed a 44-yard field goal and an extra point and booted a fourth-quarter kickoff out of bounds; Gravesande let a booming punt go over his head late to pin Purdue on the 2-yard line; and the coverage teams allowed a 33-yard punt return and a 92-yard kickoff return.
They all were costly mistakes.
Purdue battled in its first significant road test and played well, but it couldn't overcome miscues in a 23-18 at Penn State.
"It adds up a lot because, as you can see, a missed field goal and (good) field position, we're giving them a field goal doing that," said linebacker Dwayne Beckford, who had a team-high 11 tackles. "I think it's real big. But our special teams have been pretty solid throughout this season, so I think they just have to get it together. They're going to be better next week."
Running back Ralph Bolden, who had 97 yards on 13 carries, lamented the offense settling for field goals when it could have had touchdowns. Wiggs made field goals from 28 and 32 yards.
But quarterback Caleb TerBush said that simply getting points on the board is key.
"You never know, it may come down to those three points," he said. "If we would have made that one field goal and an extra point, we would have been up at the end. But it's part of it. Things didn't really work out for us."
All of Penn State's points came directly after mistakes on special teams.
After Wiggs' 44-yard field goal missed, the Nittany Lions came down and scored a touchdown.
After a 33-yard punt return, Penn State (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten) made a field goal.
After Wiggs' missed extra point and ensuing kick out of bounds, Penn State scored a touchdown for a 20-12 lead.
After Purdue (3-3, 1-1) pulled within 20-18, it allowed a 92-yard kickoff return that set up another field goal.
"I felt coming into the ball game, special teams would be our edge, particularly with the wind today," Hope said. "I thought that would be to our advantage in some ways.
"It worked out that it wasn't."
There were two crucial swings.
After TerBush zipped a pretty pass to O.J. Ross in the back of the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown with 4:02 left in the third quarter, pulling Purdue within 13-12, Wiggs missed the extra point.
The Boilermaker kicker said he thought he heard a whistle in the middle of the play after the ball was snapped. He said Webster heard the same thing. But the snap was still a good one, Wiggs said, and he clanked it off the goal post.
"You should be able to punch those in even if the ball is laying on its side and no matter what kind of wind," Wiggs said.
On the ensuing kickoff, the ball blew off the tee, so Purdue was forced to send a player out to hold it. Chris Quinn was the one who held, and Wiggs delivered the kickoff out of bounds, giving Penn State the ball at the 40.
The Nittany Lions scored a touchdown four plays later, pushing their lead to 20-12.
But Purdue still fought.
Albert Evans intercepted a pass in the end zone, and Purdue's offense responded with an eight-play, 45-yard drive capped by Akeem Shavers' one-yard TD run. But TerBush was stopped on his two-point conversion run, keeping Purdue down 20-18.
On the ensuing kickoff, Penn State's Chaz Powell fielded the ball near the 5-yard line. He delayed a bit after the catch, then put on the burners, zipping down the middle of the field and escaping a diving tackle attempt by Wiggs. Powell slowed up near the sidelines to evade Logan Link to pick up extra yardage and reach Purdue's 3-yard line.
Purdue's defense stiffened and held Penn State to only a field goal. But that was damage enough, stretching the lead to 23-18 and meaning the Boilermakers needed a touchdown for the lead.
That task was made tougher when about four minutes later, Penn State's Anthony Fera crushed a punt.
Hope said the kick was helped by the wind and hung high in the air. Gravesande appeared to have a chance to field it but decided instead to let it bounce. It was downed at Purdue's 2-yard line.
Purdue moved only six yards in three plays, coming to a fourth-and-three with about two minutes left. TerBush's pass was tipped at the line and intercepted, essentially ending the game.
"I thought the team played hard all the way around," Evans said. "I'm proud of what we were able to go out there and do, coming into this environment. But a couple mistakes on special teams, a couple mistakes on defense, a couple on offense and that costs you a game in the Big Ten."
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