Scores

Final

UCF 24

(0-1, 0-1 away)

(10) Penn State 27

(1-0, 1-0 home)

12:10 PM ET, August 31, 2002

Beaver Stadium, UNIVERSITY PARK, PA

1 2 3 4 T
UCF 3 6 0 1524
#10PSU 10 0 10 727

Penn State wins first opener since 1999

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- Penn State coach Joe Paterno didn't like his team's attitude during a close first half against Central Florida. Paterno was considerably more pleased by the middle of the fourth quarter.

The Nittany Lions (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 24 AP) scored 17 unanswered in the second half, then withstood a late charge by Central Florida to win 27-24 on Saturday in the season opener for both teams.

Joe Paterno

Penn State coach Joe Paterno earned his 328th career victory on Saturday.

"I was a little disappointed with our enthusiasm in the first half. It looked like we were flat,'' Paterno said. "We were ahead 10-9, and some guys were acting like we were behind.''

Anthony Adams recovered a fumbled snap on the Central Florida 22-yard line early in the third to set up a field goal. After a short punt, Penn State had first down at the Golden Knights' 45, and Tony Johnson caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Zack Mills to give the Nittany Lions a 20-9 lead.

"The third quarter was a catastrophe,'' Central Florida coach Mike Kruczek said. "We shortened the field for the defense, and (Penn State) performed spectacularly.''

The win was No. 328 for Paterno, who leads the all-time list.

Ryan Schneider completed 32 of 46 passes for 345 yards with one touchdown and one interception to lead Central Florida. Doug Gabriel caught 11 passes for 153 yards.

Mills was 13-of-20 for 194 yards and two touchdowns, and no interceptions.

"He made some big throws and handled the option well,'' Paterno said. "He kept that baby 'til the last minute, and then got it out there.''

Penn State showed its offensive versatility in the fourth quarter, when Tony Johnson and tight end Casey Williams each had 13-yard receptions and Mills gained 15 yards on a keeper. The drive ended when Paul Jefferson scored from 8 yards out on the option to make it an 18-point lead.

Derek Wake blocked a field goal by Central Florida early in the fourth quarter to delay the Golden Knights' comeback.

Alex Haynes scored on a 2-yard run and Tavaris Capers caught a pass from Schneider for the 2-point conversion to bring Central Florida within 27-17 with 3:23 left. The Golden Knights then tried an onside kick, but Tony Johnson caught it, and Penn State ran the clock to 1:28 before punting back to Central Florida.

Central Florida went 80 yards on eight plays, scoring on a 6-yard pass from Schneider to Capers to get within 27-24 with 24 seconds left, but a second onside kick went into the hands of Bryant Johnson, and the Nittany Lions ran out the clock.

"They just kept eating away, a little bit, a little bit,'' Penn State safety Shawn Mayer said. "But we held on.''

The win ended two straight losses in season openers by Penn State -- 29-5 to Southern California in 2000, and 33-7 to Miami last year.

Penn State started out playing sloppily on both sides of the ball. Alex Haynes broke several tackles on a 20-yard run up the middle to set up Central Florida's first score, a 26-yard field goal by Matt Prater. On offense, Mills threw a wobbly incomplete pass, then threw a pitchout into the open field for a fumble.

The Nittany Lions went ahead 10-3 on a 23-yard run by Larry Johnson and a short field goal from Robbie Gould, but Central Florida responded with two more field goals by Prater -- including a 53-yarder with 1:09 left before halftime -- to get within a point.

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