5:00 p.m. -- Capping the worst week in school history, No. 12 Penn State couldn't overcome a 17-point deficit and was stopped short on a 4th-and-1 late in a 17-14 loss Saturday to No. 19 Nebraska.

The outcome was secondary in Happy Valley.

A tumultuous chapter that began with the arrest of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky on shocking child sexual abuse charges ended Saturday with Penn State (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) losing in its first game of the post-Joe Paterno era. The winningest major college football coach ever was fired Wednesday.

Rex Burkhead ran for 121 yards and a touchdown for Nebraska (8-2, 4-2) before the Nittany Lions scored 14 points on two second-half touchdown runs by Stephfon Green.

Penn State interim head coach Tom Bradley acknowledges the student section during warm ups before an NCAA college football game against Nebraska in State
Penn State interim head coach Tom Bradley acknowledges the student section during warm ups before an NCAA college football game against Nebraska in State College, Pa., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

But a key drive ended when Silas Redd was stopped on the fourth down with 1:49 left at the Penn State 38.

School president Rod Erickson met the Nittany Lions in the locker room afterward and praised, "how much courage, how much heart, and how much character" the players had, he said.

Most Penn State fans heeded calls for a "blueout," wearing the school's familiar dark blue in support of victims of child sexual abuse. Fans formed the outline of a blue ribbon in the student section.

"We are ... Penn State," roared the crowd through the afternoon, the signature State College cheer.

But this school's identity has forever changed.

"I think today it just made the healing process start to begin," interim coach Tom Bradley said.

Sandusky, architect of the "Linebacker U." defenses, was charged last weekend with sexually abusing eight boys over 15 years. The athletic director and a university vice president were charged with perjury and failure to report a 2002 allegation to police, and Paterno was fired following mounting fury he did not do more about the charge - that Sandusky assaulted a boy in the Penn State football showers - than pass it along to his bosses. President Graham Spanier also was ousted for similar reasons.

The last time Penn State played a game at Beaver Stadium, on Oct. 29, Paterno was feted by Spanier for his 409th career victory, the most in Division I history.

On Saturday, he was nowhere to be found - save for a few fleeting images on the video boards overhead. That was enough to get spontaneous cheers of "Joe Paterno!" ringing through the stands.

"It was a tough game. There were a lot of emotions going on," said linebacker Nate Stupar, who had a team-high 13 tackles. "I used the emotions to fuel the fire."

Paterno started as an assistant in 1950, then took over as head coach in 1966. It was Penn State's first game without Paterno on staff since Nov. 19, 1949, a 19-0 loss at Pittsburgh.

Penn State and Nebraska players gather at midfield for a pre-game prayer before an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., Saturday, Nov. 12,
Penn State and Nebraska players gather at midfield for a pre-game prayer before an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

But in many respects, it was like any other fall Saturday in Happy Valley. Massive 6-foot-5 defensive tackle Devon Still hit ball carriers with typical ferocity and the Nittany Lions played another close, low-scoring game - as they have all year.

Penn State's first play from scrimmage was a fullback run up the middle - a Paterno favorite. The offense struggled again.

And someone named "Paterno" wore a path on the sideline wearing jet black Nike sneakers.

Just not that Paterno.

Paterno's son, quarterback coach Jay Paterno, moved down from his usual spot in the press box to relay plays from the sideline - a job once held by assistant coach Mike McQueary.

"We've had better weeks in our lives, obviously," Jay Paterno said. "I think about a week ago, where we were sitting, the world's kind of turned upside down, but I think our kids were resilient."

McQueary was among the missing after being placed on indefinite paid leave Friday by the school. His name surfaced as a grand jury witness to the 2002 abuse charge. Sandusky, who retired in 1999 but lives in the area and had access to school facilities, maintains his innocence.

McQueary, Joe Paterno says, told him that Sandusky had behaved inappropriately, but not to the extent of the detailed testimony. Paterno then passed the information on to Curley, but the report was not given to police.

News of the scandal elicited threats to McQueary, the school said, and brought heightened security.

But there were no visible problems during the game.

"Personally I felt this was a time to play, but also was time we could recognize and bring national focus to the problem of sexual abuse," Erickson said. "Our players and everyone involved, the way they conducted themselves today, proved that this was the right decision. This was the way to do it."

By the second half, fans seemed most concerned about whether the Nittany Lions could get back into the game.

The Corhuskers built a 17-0 lead, with Burkhead gashing Penn State's staunch D on 25 carries. He motored 14 yards into the end zone with 8:51 left in the third quarter for a 17-0 lead.

Then came the second-half push from Green on Senior Day - his last game at Beaver Stadium.

The senior scored from 5 yards with 5:07 in the third quarter, then added a 6-yard run at 5:42 of the fourth to get Penn State within three. Green finished with 71 yards on 17 carries.

But the offense faltered on two late drives, including the fourth-and-1 stop of Redd. Out of timeouts with 49 seconds left, the Nittany Lions got the ball back but could get no farther than their own 46 before time expired.

The fans cheered anyway, and greeted the Nittany Lions with one more chorus of "We are ... Penn State."

Earlier story - STATE COLLEGE - The Nebraska and Penn State players gathered at midfield before the game, kneeling together for a long moment in a quiet stadium.

Sometimes, the most powerful statements are the simplest.

Saturday's game was a combination of pep rally, cleansing and tribute for a Penn State community rocked by the child sex-abuse scandal involving former assistant Jerry Sandusky that cost Joe Paterno his job.

Affection for Penn State and Paterno was proudly on display, both by fans and players. So was support for abuse victims.

"This has been one of the saddest weeks in the history of Penn State and my heart goes out to those who have been victimized. I share your anger and sorrow," new school president Rod Erickson said in a video played in the first quarter. "Although we can't go back to business as usual, our university must move forward. We are a community."

The crowd of 107,903 was the largest this year. Instead of sprinting onto the field, the Penn State team marched out arm-in-arm through a corridor formed by the band and the Football Lettermen Club. They then gathered with the Nebraska players, a scene normally reserved for after games.

"Lord, we know we don't have control of all these events that took place this week. But we do know that you are bigger than it all," Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown said.

Beaver Stadium was awash in blue - the color associated with child-abuse prevention - right down to the flags that accompanied the band. Outside the stadium, several students sold blue bracelets to raise money for RAINN, or the Rape Abuse Incest National Network.

"It's therapy," said Dave Young, a lifelong Penn State fan. "I love Penn State football, always will love Penn State football. Tough week, cried in my office a couple times when I had moments to myself.

"But now it's time to release and watch the football game and enjoy it."

Indeed, once the game got underway, it was like any other Saturday at Beaver Stadium - except for the guy in charge of the home team, of course.

It was the first time in 46 years that Paterno was not leading the Nittany Lions, but his presence was still very much evident. When his image was shown in a video montage before the second half kicked off, the student section chanted, "Joe Paterno! Joe Paterno!" Cheers of "JoePa! JoePa!" rang out early in the fourth quarter.

The Nittany Lions' first play was a fullback run up the middle - old school, just like JoePa.

But there wasn't much else for Paterno to like. The Nittany Lions, ranked 12th and in control of the Big Ten's Leaders Division, fell behind 17-0 before Stephfon Green scored on a 5-yard touchdown run with about 5 minutes to go in the third quarter.

On the Penn State sideline, another Paterno paced back and forth.

Jay Paterno, the quarterbacks coach, traded his usual seat in the press box for a spot on the field. Paterno also took his father's spot on the team bus, following the starting quarterback off when Penn State arrived at the stadium.

The normally low-key Jay Paterno, a quarterbacks coach, pumped his fist and shouted, "Let's go!" He high-fived passers-by on the way into the stadium, and several staffers gave him an encouraging embrace before he entered the locker room. Several players appeared to have tears in their eyes, and three wore shirts that read "Joe Knows Football."

But this Saturday was about more than football.

It was about picking up the pieces.

Sandusky, once considered Paterno's heir apparent, is accused of sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year span, with several of the alleged assaults occurring on Penn State property. Two university officials are accused of perjury, and Paterno and president Graham Spanier were fired for not doing enough to act on a 2002 report that Sandusky sodomized a young boy in the showers of the campus football complex.

"We are obviously in a very unprecedented situation," interim coach Tom Bradley said Thursday. "I just have to find a way to restore the confidence and to start a healing process with everybody."

The scandal would be damaging enough to a university that prides itself on its integrity. That it involved Paterno, major college football's winningest coach and the man who'd come to symbolize all that was good at Penn State, made it that much worse.

Thousands of angry students paraded through the streets after Paterno was fired Wednesday night, some throwing rocks and bottles and tipping over a TV news van. While the anger has waned, the fondness for Paterno has not.

Several students were dressed as Paterno - rolled-up khakis, white socks and thick, dark glasses - and an entire family wore shirts that read "We (Heart) JoePa." Paul Diehm, a Penn State graduate who made the three-hour trip from Delaware, bought a blue T-shirt with the simple message, "Thanks Joe."

"Sixty-one years of service," he said, referring to Paterno's years at Penn State as both an assistant and head coach. "You've got to say thank you. He deserves it."

At Joe Paterno's house nearby, a small clutch of TV cameras and reporters stood outside. A pair of people walked to the door, rang the doorbell and left after no one answered. On the lawn were a pair of homemade signs - one read "We Love You Joe, Thank You" the other "Thanks Joe" - facing his house. Nearby a small American flag had been planted in the yard of the house.

Though police promised a heavy presence to prevent a recurrence of the violence that occurred Wednesday night, it wasn't needed. The parking lots were filled with fans grilling out, tossing footballs and soaking up the beauty of the warm, late fall morning.

"It's heartbreaking and sad and almost surreal. You can't get it out of your head for more than a minute. I'm sure just about everyone here feels the same way," Emmie Fay said as she glanced at the fellow tailgaters.

"But we're here because we love the school and believe in it."

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Associated Press reporters Michael Rubinkam and Genaro C. Armas in State College contributed to this report.