He made good on the promise. Thompson directed the first two series, during which Penn State took a 3-0 lead. Casey took over the next two, losing a fumble on one and throwing a 49-yard touchdown pass to senior wideout Chafie Fields on the next, stretching the Nittany Lions' lead to 10-0. Thompson played the entire second quarter, but Casey was back in midway through the third. With the game tied at 17, Casey went 72 yards on a spectacular scramble that was wiped out by a clipping penalty. One series later he directed a nine-play, 66-yard drive that ended with Travis Forney's 26-yard field goal, putting Penn State ahead 20-17 with 10:40 to play. "My best game since high school," said Casey after having been on the field for 30 plays, to Thompson's 36. In short the two quarterbacks were equally responsible for keeping the Lions in the game, and for giving Thompson his one last shot.
For the first play of the deciding series, Penn State called 190 X-out. On the right side split end Eddie Drummond would run a slant, while slot receiver Eric McCoo would find an open spot in the flat. On the left side of the field Fields was to run a short out. It was the first step in what Paterno hoped would be a methodical drive that might culminate in a tying field goal as time ran out, forcing overtime.
Thompson, however, saw something when he reached the line of scrimmage. "I looked at Eddie, and the corner was backing up," Thompson recalled after the game. "Then I looked at Chafie and saw that the corner was rolled up on him." Thompson and Fields made eye contact, and instantly knew what adjustment to make. Fields would ditch the original route and instead run a go pattern, trying to beat sophomore cornerback Mike Rumph deep. On the Miami sideline flamboyant former Hurricanes wideout Lamar Thomas chewed nervously on a T-shirt emblazoned with THE SWAGGER IS BACK, aware of the risk Miami was taking in playing bump-and-run with the game on the line.
Fields, a fifth-year senior who came to the line with 62 career catches, saw Rumph in his face and thought, Touchdown. On the Penn State sideline senior safety Derek Fox, who has covered Fields in countless practices, thought, "No way this guy jams Chafie." On the snap Thompson took a five-step drop, turned his body to the left and threw a rainbow into the night. Linebacker Dan Morgan, free on a blitz, planted him on his back. Only the muffled roar from one small corner of the stadium told Thompson that Fields had caught his throw and raced along the Penn State sideline for a touchdown.
Moments after the 27-23 victory, Penn State players streamed into their cramped dressing room under the west end zone. They screamed, "We Are! Penn State!" until their throats burned, and then many of them wept. "There was more emotion than I've ever seen in our locker room," said Fox. Fields was given a game ball. Thompson came away with more valuable gifts: the respect of his teammates and, lord knows, the Nittany Lion Nation, for summoning the cojones to make the biggest throw of his life in a most hostile environment.
In a hallway outside the locker room, Kevin spotted his father. They walked toward each other and then embraced. Vince pushed his son back to arm's length and said, "Great, great game." Kevin nodded, lips pursed, eyes blinking. Not 10 feet away, Casey slipped past. "It was killing me not to go in on that last series," he said, "but I was pulling for Kevin."
Casey hopped gingerly over a puddle and walked down a long tunnel toward the team bus. He was alone, because there can be only one hero quarterback. At a time.
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