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Lions rally for 39-24 win over Sparty on senior day

UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State played an awful first half and was on the verge of getting embarrassed on senior day.

The second half was a much different story, as the Nittany Lions came out and throttled Michigan State in a 39-24 victory at Beaver Stadium.

PSU won its third straight game after an 0-5 start, but it wasn’t easy. The Lions trailed 21-10 at the half against a Spartans team that has struggled mightily on offense for most of the season.

Penn State got right back in it with a TD drive and 2-point conversion on the first possession of the second half. The Lions then came up with a huge defensive stop, holding Michigan State to a field goal after it had gotten first-and-goal at the 4.

A TD there, and the Spartans would have gone back up by 10. Instead, the field goal made it 24-18.

Penn State’s offense answered after the defensive stop, moving right down the field to score a touchdown and take the lead for good. Will Levis scored from 2 yards out with 2 seconds left in the third quarter for a 25-24 lead.

The Lions got a 49-yard TD pass from Sean Clifford to Parker Washington and an 81-yard punt return for a TD by Jahan Dotson to pull away and seal the victory.

Clifford completed 17-of-27 passes for 232 yards and two TDs, and he also ran for a 31-yard score. He was PSU’s leading rusher with 48 yards, and backup QB Will Levis ran for 36 yards.

Michigan State QB Payton Thorne completed 22-of-39 for 325 yards, three TDs and one INT in the loss. Jordan Simmons led the Spartans’ ground game with 72 yards on 14 carries.

Scoring summary and video highlights

Penn State 39, Michigan State 24: Jahan Dotson turned in a tremendous punt return for an 81-yard TD with 11:24 remaining.

Penn State 32, Michigan State 24: Clifford hit Parker Washington deep down the right side, and Washington turned it into a 49-yard catch-and-run TD with 12:18 to go.

Penn State 25, Michigan State 24: Sparked by the defensive stop, Penn State’s offense went 69 yards for a TD on the ensuing possession, highlighted by a 37-yard pass from Clifford to Dotson over the middle. A 26-yard pass to Washington took PSU to the 7, and Will Levis scored from a yard out two plays later to give the Lions the lead with 2 seconds left in the third.

Michigan State 24, Penn State 18: The Spartans had first-and-goal at the 4 but had to settle for a FG after a good stop by the PSU defense. Matt Coghlin kicked a 23-yarder with 1:59 left in the third.

Michigan State 21, Penn State 18: PSU took the second-half kickoff and drove 75 yards for a score, with Clifford finding Parker Washington for an 8-yard TD. The Lions went for 2, and Clifford hit Jahan Dotson for the conversion with 10:07 left in the third.

Michigan State 21, Penn State 10: The Spartans took over at their own 13 late in the half and went right down the field for a score. Thorne connected again with Nailor for a 7-yard TD with 1:26 to go in the half.

Michigan State 14, Penn State 10: Thorne threw a beautifull ball to Tre’von Morgan for a 26-yard TD with 6:24 left in the half.

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Penn State 10, Michigan State 7: Sean Clifford scored on a 31-yard run up the middle with 10:00 left in the half.


Michigan State 7, Penn State 3: Payton Thorne threw a 45-yard TD pass to a wide-open Jailen Nailor.

Penn State 3, Michigan State 0: The Lions drove to first-and-goal at the 9, and Keyvone Lee scored from 9 yards out. But Will Fries was called for holding, pushing PSU back 10 yards. The penalty was costly as the Lions had to settle for a field goal by Jake Pinegar with 6:06 to go in the first.

Stay on top of all the news, notes and analysis throughout the game right here.

Update: 11:47 a.m.

Here are some pregame reads:

Game breakdown and prediction

Pitt won’t play in bowl game

Losing is an option, but PSU’s culture helped right ship

This is James Franklin at his very best

Football Showcase preview show

Recruiting notebook: Lions score with Alabama WR

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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