SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- With Penn State down two touchdowns early, victory for Joe Paterno in his 500th game looked bleak.
JoePa said his confidence never wavered, and the Nittany Lions ended the Alamo Bowl like most of Paterno's 499 other games: with a Penn State win.
Evan Royster broke a tie with a 38-yard touchdown run, Deon Butler caught a debatable 30-yard TD pass and Penn State erased an early two-touchdown deficit to beat Texas A&M 24-17 on Saturday night at the Valero Alamo Bowl.
Penn State's Joe Paterno coached his 500th game Saturday night in a 24-17 win over Texas A&M in the Valero Alamo Bowl. He joined Amos Alonzo Stagg (548) as the only people to reach the 500-game milestone as a major college coach and earned his 23rd career bowl victory.
Paul "Bear" Bryant
Paterno, college football's leader in bowl appearances (34), led the Nittany Lions (9-4) in a thriller that brought him his record 23rd postseason win.
The 81-year-old coach now has 372 career victories, one behind Florida State's Bobby Bowden for the most in major college football.
"When you're down 14-0, you don't feel great," Paterno said. "I knew we had work ahead of us, but I knew we could get it done."
Penn State's Rodney Kinlaw ran for 143 yards on 21 carries and Royster finished with 65 on nine carries.
Nervously pacing the sideline in his standard khakis and black sneakers, Paterno couldn't breathe easy until the clock ticked down to zero in a roller coaster of a game.
With the Nittany Lions up 24-17, Texas A&M's Stephen McGee led a 15-play drive to the Penn State 2 before losing 4 yards on fourth-and-goal after slipping on an option play with about eight minutes left.
McGee said the defense appeared to have snuffed out the play anyway.
"That's just tough. You get one yard and I'm thinking maybe we could get the win," McGee said. "They were ready for it."
Another Texas A&M (7-6) drive ended with a punt with 2 minutes left, and Penn State ran out the clock.
The Nittany Lions secured their third straight bowl victory and spoiled Gary Darnell's one-game stint as interim head coach for Texas A&M. Darnell took over Nov. 23, when Dennis Franchione resigned, and A&M has hired Mike Sherman, currently offensive coordinator for the Houston Texans, to take over next season.
Asked about his future, Darnell referenced a quote from the movie, "Forrest Gump."
"Life is a box of chocolates," Darnell said. "I'll open that box and see which cherries and chocolates come out."
McGee finished 19-of-31 passing for 164 yards and an interception, and ran for 34 yards on 10 carries.
Down two scores and in need of a change of momentum early in the second quarter, Penn State went for it on fourth-and-4 from the A&M 30.
Anthony Morelli threw a wobbly pass to Butler, who had position inside on cornerback Arkeith Brown. The ball sailed just long of Butler, who fell forward in the end zone and appeared to catch the ball just before it hit the ground. It was a close call on whether Butler totally secured the ball as he landed. A replay review confirmed the touchdown that cut A&M's lead to 14-7.
Maurice Evans then forced a Goodson fumble on the next drive that was recovered by Penn State's A.J. Wallace. Goodson had 65 yards on 14 carries.
Clark, a seldom-used backup, then scrambled to the end zone from 11 yards out on the next play and the game was tied.
Penn State had scored 17 straight points to take the lead before Matt Szymanski kicked a 38-yard field goal for A&M to tie it at 17 with 3:57 in the third quarter. The 18-play, 78-yard drive took 8:45, the longest drive by plays and time of possession this season for A&M's often beleaguered offense.
The Nittany Lions took the lead for good on the next drive. Morelli connected with Derrick Williams for a 21-yard reception to the Aggie 41 on a third-and-6 before Royster burst up the middle for the decisive score for plays later.
It looked rough early for Penn State after falling behind 14-0 on two touchdown runs in a 12-second span in the first quarter by A&M's Mike Goodson. A sea of maroon-clad fans that made up most of the record crowd of 66,166 at the Alamodome roared its approval in hopes of ending a distraction-filled season a high note.
It wasn't to be, and the Nittany Lions rallied for their ninth win in the their last 11 bowl games. It Penn State's largest comeback win since rallying from 16 points down at Northwestern on Sept. 29, 2005.
It was the kind of win that makes Paterno want to keep coaching.
"You guys drive me nuts sometimes," Paterno said when asked about his future. Paterno's contract expires after the 2008 season, though he has said he'd like to go at least another three years.
"Did you see that crowd and that atmosphere tonight," Paterno said. "Where would I want to be?"
Penn State's defense clamped down after Goodson's early runs, and the offense gained traction behind the running of backup quarterback Darryl Clark and Kinlaw and a couple clutch throws from Morelli.
"We just kept pressing and the offense came around," said Kinlaw, who was picked as the game's top offensive player.
"I thank God," he said. "I thank my offensive line."