<
>

Déjà vu? 2005 Penn State squad sounds off on importance of upset

Former Penn State defensive tackle Jay Alford -- who won a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants -- couldn't help but feel a sense of déjà vu as he texted back and forth with old teammates on Saturday night.

In 2005, Alford's Nittany Lions entered a nationally televised game against No. 6 Ohio State as an underdog who hadn't beaten a top-15 team in three years. Penn State had a lot to prove. On Saturday night, with a White Out at Beaver Stadium, the backdrop for the current Lions seemed all too familiar.

"As the game's going on, I'm like, 'Wow, this is starting to remind me a lot of us,'" Alford said. "And throughout the game, the conversation came back to, 'Wow, this is us all over again in '05.'

"And, from there, they pulled out the win. And I'm like, you got to be kidding me."

In 2005, Penn State upset Ohio State 17-10 after a game-sealing Tamba Hali sack that resulted in a fumble. In 2016, the Lions pulled out the 24-21 win over Ohio State after Evan Schwan and Kevin Givens sacked the Buckeyes on fourth-and-23.

For the 2016 Nittany Lions, the big questions now become just where Penn State goes from here -- and what the victory does for this team moving forward. And the 2005 Lions are maybe in the best position to answer that. After all, they've essentially been here before.

"You want to stay humble after that, but it's just tough," Alford said. "Because beating a team like O-State, and them being the No. 6 team with us, we were on cloud nine. We were almost thinking there was no chance we were going to lose again because we just had that type of confidence."

On Saturday night, Alford texted back and forth with former defensive back and special-teams player Donnie Johnson. After the final whistle, Johnson said, he playfully tossed chairs in celebration at a Pittsburgh-area bar. His girlfriend literally danced on the bar top.

Johnson laughed while recalling the celebration back in 2005, too, when student-fans carried on the party downtown, and he couldn't get into the town's main club. He said he can't forget how the crowd stormed the field -- just like in 2016 -- and how the win impacted the team.

"It was a confidence booster," Johnson said. "Our confidence boosted knowing that everyone on that team was an NFL-caliber player, and we dominated, overpowered them in every aspect of the game. And that just spilled into the following year. It's one of those things -- you know that you've arrived."

"Every we game we went into from that game on," Johnson continued, "we felt like no one could stop us. That momentum carried over."

In the 2005 preseason, much like 2016, most had already counted out the Nittany Lions. Joe Paterno was on the hot seat after his team failed to reach the postseason in four of the previous five seasons. The win over the Buckeyes signified an end to all that. For many, it marked a return to national prominence.

Former safety Calvin Lowry, who had a key interception in the '05 contest, couldn't help but watch the second half of Saturday night's game and think this was another turning point for the program.

"The dark days are behind them, and now they can start looking to greener pastures," said Lowry, a current assistant coach at Tulsa who played four seasons in the NFL. "They have bounced back. They had a rough couple of years, but they have the talent, they have the coaching staff, they have the backing of the administration and the alumni. They will come back -- and they will get in those New Year's Day bowl games and compete for Big Ten championships and national championships."

Eleven years after Lowry's memorable performance against the Buckeyes, he said he can still remember virtually every play. It's a game he can't forget, and he has no doubt this year's team will vividly recall this win a decade from now.

"As a player," Lowry added, "those are the games you remember until you're dead and gone."

In 2005, Penn State went 5-1 after the win over the Buckeyes en route to an Orange Bowl victory. Their only loss came against Michigan on a last-second touchdown pass. Some Penn State shops sold T-shirts that year that read, "11-and-1 second."

But, more importantly, the Nittany Lions never suffered a losing season afterward. Even during the sanctions, Penn State always won at least seven games.

The win in 2005 was important to Penn State for a multitude of reasons. And, for players on that squad, the victory last weekend could be just as big for this program. It gives players and fans something to believe in -- and that feeling tends to linger long after the final whistle.

"For the team right now, it gives them a reflection of who they truly are," said former defensive end Matthew Rice, who started 31 games at Penn State. "Their accomplishments and the accolades that come with a victory like that -- and to experience it and build on it -- it's like falling in love.

"Once you get that feeling, it's not something that just goes away. It's something you want again. So for them to experience that win on that level … that all's going to affect them and push them to achieve the next victory and into the next season."