UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Two juniors stole the show for Penn State on Senior Day at Beaver Stadium.
Outside linebacker Sean Lee made the play of the game on defense and receiver Derrick Williams scored twice on offense, including the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, as Penn State rallied to beat Purdue, 26-19.
The Nittany Lions (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) not only bounced back from a resounding 20-point home loss a week ago to No. 1 Ohio State, they kept their New Year's Day bowl hopes alive by finishing the home portion of their schedule at 6-1.
Penn State closes out its regular season with road games at Temple and Michigan State.
"We want to win our last two games now and end up in the best bowl game possible," Lee said.
Purdue (7-3, 3-3) was leading, 10-3, and driving for another touchdown late in the first quarter when Lee rescued Penn State's beleaguered defense.
On a third-and-goal play from the 1, Lee stood up Purdue tailback Jaycen Taylor near the goal line. As Taylor tried to stretch the ball across the plane, Lee wrestled it away from him.
"That was a big-time play and was the turning point in the game," defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said.
Lee, from Upper St. Clair High School, said he's not sure how he ended up in position to steal the ball.
"I just kind of went in there and tried to strip it out of his hands," said Lee, who led Penn State with 12 tackles, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. "I know that it pretty much turned things around for us and was demoralizing for them."
The Lions outscored the Boilermakers, 23-9, the rest of the way.
Williams, who finished with a career-high 10 catches for 95 yards and a career-high 151 all-purpose yards, caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Anthony Morelli in the second quarter to tie the score at 10-10.
Purdue's fourth personal foul in the first half -- a roughing the kicker call on Terrell Vinson -- gave Penn State's Kevin Kelly a second chance just before halftime.
Kelly, wide right on a 30-yard field goal on his first attempt with three seconds left, hit a 24-yarder as time expired, giving the Lions a 13-10 halftime lead.
After Purdue's Chris Summers kicked field goals of 28 and 50 yards in the third quarter to regain a 16-13 advantage for the Boilermakers, Williams struck again early in the fourth quarter.
He scored on a 12-yard reverse play. Williams followed the block of fullback Dan Lawlor before cruising into the end zone and giving Penn State the lead for good, 19-16.
"It was important to send the seniors out with a victory," Williams said.
Williams benefited from the fact that Purdue's secondary was keying on fellow receiver Deon Butler.
"Derrick was just in the slot a little bit more and it just created some favorable matchups," Morelli said. "We just got him the ball and let him do his stuff."
Morelli, a senior from Penn Hills, finished 22 of 35 for 210 yards in his final home game. Penn State piled up 461 yards of offense and a season-high 29 first downs. The Nittany Lions were 4 for 4 in the red zone.
"To go out on top with a win in our last home game, that means a lot to us," Morelli said.
Another senior, middle linebacker Dan Connor, broke Paul Posluszny's record for career tackles in the third quarter when he stopped Taylor after a 2-yard gain. Connor finished with 11 tackles, giving him 379 for his career. Posluszny had 372.
"Setting the record on Senior Day was a big deal," Connor said.
Redshirt freshman tailback Even Royster, who scored on a 26-yard run with 3:46 left, sealing the win for Penn State, had his first 100-yard game, finishing with 126 yards on 21 carries. Senior starter Rodney Kinlaw added 84 yards on 12 carries for the Lions.
Purdue's only touchdown came on a 98-yard kickoff return by Dorien Bryant to open the game. It was the second kickoff return for a score against Penn State in six games.
NOTES -- Penn State's seven home games attracted 762,419 fans, including a record average of 108,917 per game. ... Connor has 105 tackles and Lee 104, marking the third time in school history two players have had 100 or more tackles in the season. ... Morelli's 210 yards passing gives him 2,060 for the year. He is the first Penn State quarterback to have at least 2,000 yards passing in multiple seasons. ... Defensive end Maurice Evans had two sacks, giving him 12 1/2. Defensive tackles Phil Taylor and Chris Baker had one sack each. ... A.J. Wallace made his first career start at cornerback as the Lions opened in a nickel defense.
First Published November 4, 2007 4:00 AM