Penn State wanted to avoid a letdown. What it got was more like a meltdown.
A week after an emotional victory over Ohio State, Penn State had to score twice in the fourth quarter to beat lowly Minnesota 16-15 on Saturday and keep alive hopes for a national championship."It was a win. You shouldn't apologize for it," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. "We just couldn't seem to get into a groove. We tried things but they were ready for us. They (the players) were fortunate it was a win. I hope they learn for it."
Chris Snyder's fumble recovery set up Curtis Enis' game-winning, 10-yard touchdown run with 3:59 to play.
"It was like a gift from God," linebacker Jim Nelson said. "You couldn't think of a more perfect time for those things to happen. Sometimes championship teams get lucky. Call it what you will but things went our way."
The Nittany Lions (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) overcame a 15-3 lead that Minnesota (2-5, 0-3) built on field goals of 52, 23, 32, 50 and 33 yards by Adam Bailey.
Minnesota's Crawford Jordan was called for pass interference on a third-down pass to Enis, giving Penn State a first down at the Gopher 6. Enis, who ran for 112 yards, scored on the next play and Penn State trailed only 15-10.
"As much as I didn't want this type of ball game, we needed it. Luckily, knock on wood, we pulled it out," Enis said.
Minnesota immediately turned the ball over when Cory Sauter's pass was intercepted by Dave Macklin at the Minnesota 34. The Nittany Lions drove to a first-and-goal but turned the ball over on downs when Mike McQueary's pass skipped off the fingers of tight end Brad Scioli in the end zone.
Penn State got another break three plays later when Minnesota turned the ball over again. Thomas Hamner, who provided much of the offensive spark for the Gophers with 154 yards rushing, dropped the ball on a pitch and Snyder recovered at the 10. Penn State went ahead on Enis' second TD run on the ensuing snap.
"I really believe that you have to go for the win," said Minnesota coach Glen Mason, who admitted he dressed up for the game to impress Paterno. "It's no fun trying not to lose."
Minnesota had one last chance, but Sauter's fourth-down pass at the 40 eluded Tutu Atwell and Penn State ran out the clock.
Penn State won its 11th straight despite a subpar day from McQueary, who threw for only 85 yards and had two passes intercepted and lost a fumble.
Lamanzer Williams blindsided McQueary, causing a fumble that Ben Mezera recovered at the 36. Bailey's 52-yard field goal gave Minnesota a 3-0 lead with 2:31 left in the first quarter.
Hamner carried for 44 yards to spark a drive to the Penn State 6, setting up Bailey's 23-yarder.
Travis Forney's field goal from 34 yards out cut the Gopher lead to 6-3 at 5:25 in the second.
Hamner contributed 37 yards as Minnesota drove to the Penn State 15 before stalling and Bailey's third field goal made it 9-3. Bailey's 50-yarder gave the Gophers a 12-3 lead with 3:24 left in the third quarter.
Minnesota squandered a chance to put the game out of reach minutes later.
Enis fumbled and Antoine Richard recovered at the Penn State 43. Minnesota drove to the 7 only to stall again. This time, Bailey's field goal attempt of 24 yards was blocked by Courtney Brown.
On the next play, McQueary's pass was intercepted by Ben Mezera at the 20. Minnesota again failed to get into the end zone and settled for Bailey's school-record fifth field goal, this a 33-yarder.