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Forty seconds remained in the game, and North Carolina State had a fourth down on the Penn State one-yard line. Penn State led 13-6, but North Carolina State had been very close to tying or winning the game throughout the second half. Now all the hopes that North Carolina State had built up during eight straight victories depended on this one final play. One more yard might mean an undefeated season, a high national ranking, a place in the Sugar Bowl. A mistake—in the national view—would leave N.C. State as nothing but a nice Atlantic Coast Conference team that could not quite survive a full campaign and beat top nonconference opposition. By such margins is success measured.
Quarterback Jim Donnan called time out and trotted to the sideline to talk to his coach, Earle Edwards. "Let's give it to Tony on a smash over the middle," said Donnan. "We might as well go back to the play that's done the job all day." Tony Barchuk—the steady halfback—had already carried for 93 yards in the game, but he had also carried 28 times and almost everyone in Penn State's Beaver Stadium was expecting him to try once more.
"I was thinking more of a quick pitch-out, something to surprise them and get outside," Edwards said later. "But when the boys really want to do a certain thing they often execute it better than a play-you give them."
Edwards nodded an O.K. to Donnan, who ran back on the field.
"They had used that play an awful lot," said Dennis Onkotz, the Penn State linebacker. "You didn't have to be too smart to guess that they would use it again." Onkotz happens to be very smart; he is studying nuclear physics and turned down Princeton as well as many other schools in favor of Penn State. He was watching for Barchuk as he lined up. "My first responsibility was to be opposite the flanker," he said. "But as soon as I saw their linemen block toward the inside I rushed over to the middle."
Barchuk took the hand-off and saw Penn State jam up the inside. In a last desperate effort he tried to hurdle the line. Onkotz met him in midair about a foot from the goal, drove him back, and the North Carolina dream came to a jolting end. Pour plays later Punter Tom Cherry gave NCS a safety rather than risk kicking to the dangerous Freddie Combs, and Penn State had a 13-8 win over the team that had been ranked third in the country.
The result was not an upset. While the people who vote in polls looked at North Carolina State's 8-0 record, the men who make their living by gambling inspected unranked Penn State's tough schedule and its unlucky two-point loss to UCLA and they made Penn State a slight favorite. But while many people expected Penn State to win, few thought it would win this kind of game. A young, fast team, which is full of sophomores and is noted mainly for offense, Penn State beat North Carolina State with its defense.
"We have a much better club than people give us credit for," said Quarterback Tom Sherman, "especially on defense. Today our offense did not have one of its better days, but you saw how the defense won the game for us."
The Penn State offense did not start all that badly. By using an unusual three-end formation that accomplished its job of upsetting the N.C. State defense, Sherman was able to drive the team for a touchdown following the opening kick-off. But the offense did not score again. Moments later Onkotz intercepted a pass and returned it 67 yards for a touch-down that made it 13-0, and then the defense—with Onkotz, a 19-year-old sophomore, showing the way—embarked on its successful all-day struggle to protect the lead.
For the losers, the game brought an end to a delirious streak of triumphs over opponents and experts—and to a fine inferiority-complex cure. North Carolina State has always been the most maligned school in its area. Under the state's consolidated university system, the famous University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is known for liberal arts and scholastic achievements; State is geared to agricultural and technical studies. UNC is considered the "Ivy" institution, and poor State is derided as the "cow college."