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Sporting gesture hollow after summer


February 17. 2013 5:41AM


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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- ESPN cameras lingered at midfield, looking for the typical pregame pleasantries between two head coaches.


They left disappointed.


For three hours on Saturday, Penn State's Bill O'Brien and Illinois' Tim Beckman barely acknowledged each other. And that general disgust by the coaches carried over to the players, creating a tense and heated atmosphere throughout the game.


Only at the end of the Nittany Lions' 35-7 win did the two step within 20 yards of each other, giving a handshake so brief, Bill Belichick would be impressed.


The Big Ten mandates -- or at least strongly encourages -- that its coaches shake hands after games.


The story is known well enough. In July, O'Brien was furious that coaches from Illinois flew to State College 48 hours after NCAA sanctions came down, looking to recruit away Penn State players.


"Our players are in our building right now and they don't want to leave the building," O'Brien said at the time. "Because there are coaches from other schools in the parking lot waiting to see them."


But that was the last time O'Brien said anything publicly about the situation.


That didn't change Saturday.


"I've said my peace on that in the summertime," O'Brien said after the win. "The sanctions are what they are. The people who recruited our kids played within the rules. But at the end of the day we came here and played a good football game against a tough team.


"You guys can figure the rest out."


Pretty much.


Beckman said this week that he did not regret sending his staff to Penn State but that he did regret the stir that it caused.


Both teams responded on the field with a physical and chippy game. Lions safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong laid a hard hit on tailback Donovonn Young right in front of the Illinois sideline in the early going and was quickly escorted away by a teammate after the junior started jawing at Illini players.


Things ratched up late in the second quarter when Illinois safety Earnest Thomas delivered a particularly vicious shot to Penn State tight end Matt Lehman.


Lehman hauled in a touchdown pass over the middle and took a step into the end zone before Thomas launched and caught him on the chin with the crown of his helmet.


"I blacked out a little bit. My vision was a little messed up," said Lehman, who was dazed enough to not hear that Thomas was ejected for the hit. "They took my helmet from me when I was on the sideline and I was done for the rest of the half."


That half ended with players from both teams coming together on the way to their locker rooms. The entire officiating crew formed a barrier in between them and what had the potential for a brawl was diffused after 45 seconds.


"I was trying to play peacemaker," Lions linebacker Michael Mauti said. "I'm not sure exactly what happened. People just got tangled up in the pile."


Infirmary report

Lehman was evaluated at halftime and cleared to return by Penn State's medical staff. After snagging the touchdown in the first half, he added four more catches after returning and led the Lions in catches (five) and receiving yards (70).


Obeng-Agyapong also left the game at the start of the second half with apparent cramps in his left knee. He was carted off and did not return.


Defensive end Pete Massaro (shoulder, knee) did not make the trip.



One Cougar for another


True freshman linebacker Nyeem Wartman also stayed back in State College while recovering from a knee injury.


But Valley View High school was still represented in Champaign as junior fullback J.R. Refice made the trip for the Lions. It was the former Cougar's first road trip in four years with the Lions.


O'Brien said this week that he wanted to reward the top scout team players for the week with a spot on the 70-man travel roster.


"(Refice) had a great week of practice and he deserves to be out there with us," O'Brien said Thursday on his radio show.



Rules refresher


Out of all the debates over Illinois' summer recruiting tactics, only reserve offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki actually defected to the Illini.


Nowicki did not play against his old team.


"He's being redshirted this year, so I didn't speak to him (Saturday)," Beckman said.


Reminded that Nowicki had already used his redshirt season in 2011 while at Penn State, Beckman simply shrugged and replied, "He's just not ready yet."




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