The poster had a picture of a large football with a yellow and white tornado painted across the front of it, and centered on the tornado was the name and number of Penn State linebacker recruit Tyrell Sales. That poster was made by a young “buddy” who had befriended the PSU bound and former Butler Tornado linebacker. Sales’ eyes lit up when he saw it, and that is what the Big33 game is all about.
Friendship, charity, and the celebration of the special talents these special athletes put on display Saturday are all interwoven into the fabric of this long running central Pennsylvania tradition called The Big33.
And there is a lot of football too.
For Penn State fans, two future linebackers and one determined defensive lineman headed our way spearheaded an effort to help pull this game out for the home team.
That threesome showed promise Saturday night, as Brown recorded four solo tackles -- two of which were sacks for a combined loss of 11 yards -- the most of any Pennsylvania defender. Sales contributed four total tackles, with one solo effort, while Shipley continuously pushed his way into the Ohio backfield on his way to assisting on five stops.
Current Penn State linebacker Paul Pozlusny met with his future defensive mates on the field after the game. “All three of them can really play. I think they can do special things for us,” Posluszny said.
Sales acknowledged that the move to defensive end for the Big33 game was challenging, “it took some time to adjust to,” Sales said. “I was just trying to go on athleticism. I've only been playing for one week, so I don't have the moves.”
In a vote of the players, A.Q. Shipley was named the defensive captain of the squad at the culmination of practice week. During the game Shipley mainly focused on trying to make a presence in the Ohio backfield, “Ohio threw the ball a lot, so I was just trying to work a rush, get some pressure and go from there.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Penn State was represented by fullback Dan Lawlor and quarterback Anthony Morelli. Despite the presence of team MVP Curtis Brinkley along with Miami Hurricane recruits Andrew Johnson and James Bryant sharing the backfield duties, it was Lawlor who got more carries than any of them. Lawlor had nine carries for 33 yards in the game to go with one pass reception and a number of nice blocks to help spring the tailbacks.
Anthony Morelli was one half of one of the most interesting sub plots this game has seen in many years. The other half of that sub plot was Michigan bound quarterback Chad Henne and his entourage of supporters.
Yes, there was a bonafide quarterback controversy in this game for the first time since Kerry Collins and Frank Costa led the Pennsylvania squad in 1989. At that time, Penn State had an ongoing and mostly burning rivalry with the Miami Hurricanes, Costa’s school of choice. Today, it’s Michigan that gets farther under the skin of many Penn State fans than any other school. When Wilson quarterback Chad Henne spurned Penn State’s heavy recruiting push for the Wolverines, and when Anthony Morelli subsequently turned down Pitt for Penn State last winter, it set up an interesting plot line for this week’s showcase.
Chad Henne fans were bedecked in Michigan attire in significant numbers in the PA stands. A rough estimate suggested there were maybe 50 such fans in the stands. Late in the fourth quarter with Morelli leading the Pennsy squad downfield inside the Ohio 30 yard line, coach George Chaump did the unthinkable by pulling Morelli in favor of the Michigan bound Henne.
And the fan reaction? The Henne entourage, all decked out in maize, blue and the number 7, they went wildly cheering along as Chad entered the game.
Less audible, but no less enthusiastic, were boos from the supporters of the quarterback who had just been replaced, Penn State recruit Anthony Morelli.
As fate would have it, Henne threw three incomplete passes and the game was essentially over. It ended much the way the first half ended, with George Chaump replacing Anthony Morelli despite the fact he was moving the team towards the Ohio end zone and his replacement, Chad Henne, unable to finish the job.
Truth be told, both quarterbacks had their shining moments in the game, but neither of them were enough to offset Ted Ginn’s magnificent showing. But of the two, Morelli clearly shined on the field.
Down 14-3 early in the second quarter, Morelli took over at quarterback and went 5-for-6 for 150 yards, helping Pennsylvania take a 17-14 lead late in the half. He connected on deep bombs to Miami recruit Andrew Johnson for a gain of 57 yards and Ohio State recruit Devon Lyons for a gain of 54.
That lead could have been expanded very late when the Pennsylvania squad recovered a squib kick that had inadvertently caromed off of one of the Ohio special teams players. Morelli started to lead the team downfield yet again, but coach Chaump inserted Henne for a gadget play reception that took the PA team inside the Ohio ten yard line, but on the subsequent attempt at a TD Henne under threw his intended target and Ted Ginn nearly had himself an easy 100 yard touchdown return.
The abrupt switches at the end of both halves was never explained to Morelli, “I was moving the ball up and down the field -- I had these guys going. Then they just took me out. Maybe it was some favoring of the east side of the state,” said Morelli, who played at Penn Hills High School near Pittsburgh. “I don't know what it was, but we lost and I'm just going up to Penn State and I'm going to get it done up there now.”
To add intrigue to the whole saga, practice onlookers noted that Henne was getting twice the reps that Morelli got during the practices leading up to the game. In addition, Wilson head coach Jim Cantafio was manning the PA sideline with a headset.
When asked about his decision, head man George Chaump stated, “I put [Henne] in to roll out. It wasn't anything with Anthony at all. It was what we wanted to do and [Henne's] better at going to the left. Henne's got a little bit better body control.”
Despite playing only roughly one third of the snaps in this game, Morelli ended up completing 5 of 8 passes for 150 yards while Henne managed to complete 5 of 14 for 102 yards.
A second sup plot to the game was the feeling among the PA squad that last year’s team got beat up pretty good and that they were intent on not allowing that to happen a second time. There was some minor talk about that during the week. Truth is, both squads are made up of a bunch of top dogs if you catch my drift, and the Ohio squad had a point to make themselves.
That talk continued a bit among a few players early in the game. When a late hit occurred on Ted Ginn in the 2nd half, tempers flared and the PA came running off it’s bench toward the Ohio sideline. On the subsequent play, bout number two ensued.
While the players were quick to acknowledge after the game that they meant no dishonor to their team, their mischievous smirks betrayed that they enjoyed the contact just a bit - and the chances to get their returns on the field later on.
And for the Penn State recruits, that's the exact kind of desire they hope to bring with them to Happy Valley.
“You don't want to be an idiot on the field, and you don't want to do anything cheap,” Sales said. “But you gotta play with an edge, you gotta play with a passion. That core that we got coming in [to Penn State], we got that edge.”
In the end, the big story was Ted Ginn.
Many had speculated that Ginn could have a Steve Breaston, Rocket Ismail, Tony Dorsett type impact in this game, and he did. The prep superstar who will attend Ohio State in the fall was named Ohio's most valuable player. Ginn will likely play cornerback at the college level, but he made the most noise on offense for Ohio Saturday, mainly because Henne and Morelli often did not try to challenge him.
Ginn caught five passes for a game-high 142 yards, including an 82-yard touchdown strike from Indiana recruit Grant Gregory.
But he saved the best for last.
Down 30-28 with five minutes remaining, Ginn took a pitch and then surprised the Pennsylvania defense by throwing and hitting an open Dustin Woods for a 36-yard touchdown. The trick play proved to be the winning score for Ohio.
Ever gracious, Penn State recruit A.Q. Shipley said of the Ohio State signee, “Ted Ginn is a great kid. I talked to him all week and he's a down-to-earth, humble kid. He's one of the best players in the country and you have to give him that.”
Yes, you do have to give him that. He’s something special.
Count me in the camp that feels that head coach George Chaump should have left Anthony Morelli in the game in both halves. Anthony was playing very well and moving the team downfield in both halves. I’m not sure it makes sense to take a guy out who is playing that well.
Ohio State was represented by 12 players in this year‘s game, Michigan by three players, and Penn State by seven players.
Two Ohio players, OL Gerald Cadogan and CB Tony Davis, are both headed to Penn State next week.
Lion News caught up to some current recruits at this year’s game, most notable among them being Justin King of Gateway High School. Justin King is the step son of former Penn State great Terry Smith and is widely felt to be one of the top recruits in the country. Steve Curry will have that update for you soon.