Morelli finishes career on winning note

SAN ANTONIO — In the final game of his Penn State career, senior quarterback Anthony Morelli went out exactly the way he wanted.

With a win.

It wasn’t a work of art, but Morelli quarterbacked the Nittany Lions to a 24-17 win over Texas A&M on Saturday night in the Alamo Bowl. He finished his Penn State career with an 18-8 record as a starter. He also finishes with two consecutive bowl victories.

After the game, Morelli was all smiles as confetti and balloons dropped from the rafters of the Alamodome.In a 14-0 hole early, Morelli did a nice job rallying the troops.

“Yeah, man, I just tried to keep everybody’s heads up. We were down 14-0 pretty quick there,” he said. “We just tried to stay focused, bounce back and we got it done. We go out with another bowl victory.”

He finished the night completing 15-of-31 passes for 143 yards. He tossed one touchdown and was intercepted once. He was not sacked in the game.

“The offensive line did a great job,” Morelli said matter-of-factly.

Morelli’s performance was very reminiscent of his performance last Jan. 1, when he led the Nittany Lions to a 20-10 win over Tennessee in the Outback Bowl. In that game, Morelli completed 14-of-25 for 197 yards and one touchdown.

On Saturday, Morelli’s most important pass of the night came in the second quarter.

On fourth-and-3 from the Texas A&M 30-yard line, Morelli unleashed a wobbly pass that appeared to be out of reach of receiver Deon Butler. Butler, however, stretched out to make a beautiful catch in the end zone for a touchdown that cut the deficit to 14-7.

It turned out to be Morelli’s final touchdown pass and was arguably the biggest of his career.

“We have confidence in Anthony and Deon and the rest of the receivers. We thought (Texas A&M) would be in man (coverage),” said offensive coordinator Galen Hall. “It’s something we throw in practice. Anthony laid it up very well. It was a key play for us. I was very pleased with the way they executed it.”

Under the microscope for much of his Penn State career, Morelli wrote the final chapter in 2007. Oft-criticized for failures against Big Ten frontrunners Michigan and Ohio State, he and fellow seniors Dan Connor and Terrell Golden came into the season talking national championship. Following a second-half collapse at Michigan State, Morelli helped his 8-4 squad refocus and get ready for the grand finale.

Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said the seven-point win was a nice capper to Morelli’s career.

“He had two years as a starter, we went to two bowl games and he wins them both. There aren’t many quarterbacks who can say that,” Paterno said. “I’m proud of the way he handled himself. He had some adversity early on tonight. We got down 14-0, but he stayed very positive and got us right back in it. He made some big throws.”

In addition to the touchdown throw to Butler, Morelli also made a big throw in the third quarter on Penn State’s game-winning drive. On third-and-6 from the Penn State 20-yard line, Morelli hooked up with Derrick Williams for a 21-yard gain that kept the drive alive.

“That was a key third down and he hung in there and made the throw. That was a big third down conversion because we were able to go down and win the game,” Paterno said. “I’m awfully proud of him. I thought he did a fantastic job and he’s got a great future ahead of him.”

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