But Penn State is almost never swamped. Another punting error, the beleaguered Hepler shanking the ball off his ankle for six yards this time, gave the Lions the ball on the Panther 23. Pitt got a brief reprieve when on fourth-and-one at the Pitt 14, Penn State Tailback Joel Coles swept around the right side directly into Green. No gain. But moments later, Trocano threw his second interception of the afternoon and the Nittany Lions were back. This time they scored when Quarterback Todd Blackledge, a freshman, threw perfectly to Flanker Kenny Jackson in the midst of three Panther defenders in the end zone. That closed the deficit to 14-9, where it remained after Penn State's two-point conversion try failed.
All through the fourth quarter, the Lions forced the issue. They had Pitt pinned on its own one, but the Panthers wiggled out; Penn State intercepted, reached the Pitt 37 but failed again on a fourth-and-one, this time when Warner was mashed by Strong Safety Carlton Williamson. The Lions' final frustration was a pass interception by the ever-present Williamson after Blackledge had gotten his team back to the Panther 34 with less than a minute to play.
Trocano was elated afterward despite mediocre statistics that included 6-for-15 passing. He oozes confidence. And practicality. Which is why he volunteered to play free safety last spring. "The writing was on the wall," he said. "And I can read. Marino was going to be the quarterback and I was going to sit on the bench." Trocano is a senior, Marino a sophomore. Even in triumph, Trocano seemed to yearn for the good old defensive days of September and October. "I loved being a part of the best defense in the country," he said. "I also enjoyed hitting instead of being hit." But when Marino twisted his left knee, Trocano was summoned back to the helm.
For Penn State, 9-2 and headed for a Fiesta Bowl encounter with Ohio State, the loss was harsh. It was, among other things, the first time since 1948-49 that the Nittany Lions had lost to Pitt twice in a row. Still, the loser's defense was plenty good enough to win; it shut down the Panthers, who had been gaining 428.8 yards per game, with only 234 yards, 64 in the second half.
And over in the Pitt dressing room, the boys were going nuts. "Our opponents look at us like we're crazy," said Meisner between bear calls. "But they're worried that if we are crazy, there's no telling what we'll do." Then Sherrill hushed his players and told them how terrific he thinks they are. Which they are. Certified crazy, but terrific.