STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Northwestern failed its first big test of the season.
A week after returning to the Top 25 for the first time since 2008, the No. 24 Wildcats wasted an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter, allowing three touchdowns in the final 9:49 in a 39-28 loss Saturday to Penn State.
Quarterback Matt McGloin had the go-ahead score on a 5-yard touchdown run with 2:37 left after earlier throwing a 6-yard touchdown pass to Allen Robinson as the receiver dragged along the back line of the end zone.
Michael Zordich had a 2-point conversion run to get Penn State within 28-25 before McGloin's scramble across the front corner of the end zone sent the homecoming weekend crowd into a frenzy.
"It was tough," safety Ibraheim Campbell said about the fourth quarter. "We've just got to find a way to make a play. Guys were out there for a while. The offense was out there the same as us. We've just got to find a way to focus in, make a play and get off the field."
Penn State (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten) then stuffed Northwestern's last-gasp drive after Trevor Siemian's pass for Kain Colter was tipped away on fourth down to help hand the Wildcats their first loss of 2012.
Things looked so good for Northwestern (5-1, 1-1) after Venric Mark's 75-yard punt return for a touchdown with 50 seconds left in the third quarter demoralized the blue-and-white faithful for a 28-17 lead.
Mark also ran for a score and finished with 72 yards on 13 carries.
The Wildcats couldn't get to 6-0 for the first time in 50 years. Even worse for Northwestern, the loss continued a disturbing trend of second-half shortfalls against Penn State. The Wildcats had halftime leads in two of the previous three years before falling to the Nittany Lions.
This year, they couldn't hang on to an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter.
"We didn't get their 'B' game today; we got their 'A' game, and we were toe to toe, jaw to jaw with them all the way to the end when we really lost it," Fitzgerald said.