UNIVERSITY PARK — Much was new Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
New head football coach and new game plan. Names on jerseys.
Even the result was something new, a season-opening loss for Penn State for the first time since 2001.
Ohio University overcame a 14-3 halftime deficit to defeat the Nittany Lions 24-14 in coach Bill O’Brien’s first game at the helm.
The players, who had battled through a challenging offseason that included NCAA sanctions linked to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, were visibly upset as they left the field, digesting the difficult outcome of a game that ushered in a new era of football at Penn State.
“You don’t like to lose,” senior linebacker Michael Maui said. “Our team doesn’t like to lose, just like the other team. We didn’t play well enough to win the game. We are going to check out the tape ... and move on.”
For many fans, the final score didn’t ruin an otherwise exciting day.
Downtown State College was jam-packed with people and cars, and Penn State football jerseys were numerous. “We are” chants were prevalent and tailgaters were in abundance at Beaver Stadium.
Despite the setbacks, the Penn State football experience was very similar to past years for many fans.
Matt Jeremias, a State College resident who has been attending Penn State football games since 1952, said he might even be more enthusiastic for this season than in the past.
Jeremias did the same pregame ritual he always does: tailgating at his home before heading to the Beaver Stadium parking lot to meet old friends.
“It’s more exciting to get past everything and move on,” Jeremias said.
Many students shared the same fervor.
Freshman Peter Flanagan, who had a blue “U” painted on his chest and blue paint on his face, described the crowd of 97,186 as “awesome” and “very energetic.”
Though the team will never go to a bowl game during his four years at the school because of sanctions, he plans to attend every home game and possibly some away games.
“I have a connection with this school, and I love it here,” he said.
However, for some there were some noticeable differences.
Mike O’Boyle, of Pittston, said it’s hard not seeing the late Joe Paterno on the sidelines, and he said he doesn’t like the uniform changes that include a blue ribbon on helmets.
But change is inevitable, O’Boyle said, and he is hopeful the team will rebound from its loss to Ohio.
“Today was special,” he said. “It’s the beginning of something new.”
Matt Morgan can be reached at 235-3928. Follow him on Twitter@MetroMattMorgan.