Penn State head coach Joe Paterno watches pre-game warmups before a game against Eastern Michigan in State College on Saturday.AP photo
STATE COLLEGE -- Two new seats appeared on the home sideline before Saturday’s game, one planted right at the 50-yard line.
A wooden stool showed up at midfield and a golf cart wasn’t far away, both signs that Joe Paterno would be returning to the field. Backup plans, if you will, for an ailing hip.
The joke before the game was that the Penn State coach would rotate his seats like his quarterbacks -- a few drives with one, then a few with the other.
But when Paterno reclaimed his familiar spot on the home sideline at Beaver Stadium, he used no chair and he used no cane.
The 84-year-old coach made his first appearance on the field during a game this season as he continues to recover from a hip injury suffered in August. He remained there for the first half before relenting and heading up to the coaches’ booth -- where he spent all of the Nittany Lions’ first three games this year -- for the second half.
“I’m trying to get away without taking pain pills and trying to do things without the cane,” Paterno said. “I’m trying to do a little bit on my own. I don’t want to have something supporting me.
“I felt great until about four or five minutes to go in the first half, and then I just could hardly move. But obviously I had to move. When we got ahead and it looked like we were OK, I just decided, ‘Hey, this is foolish, so I’m gonna go upstairs.’ “
The main concern for Paterno has been his lack of mobility. Doctors have told him they are worried about his ability to get out of the way of plays that end in front of the Lions sideline.
As a precaution, Paterno was kept back a few yards back from where he would typically stand. Graduate assistant Gus Felder -- formerly a pass protector at Berwick High School and Penn State -- spent much of the game near Paterno keeping an eye out for traffic.
“I think each week I’ll do a little bit more,” Paterno said. “It just hurts. I’m not as tough as I used to be -- not that I was ever tough.”
Though he said earlier in the week he was reluctant to make personnel changes following a narrow win at Temple, Paterno ended up making a switch at placekicker Saturday.
With the Lions a miserable 1-for-6 on field goals after three games, Paterno made the call to go sophomore Anthony Fera, who also handled punting and kickoff duties.
It was a very rare occurrence for Paterno and the Lions. The last Penn State player to serve as punter and placekicker full-time was Chris Bahr in 1975.
Fera hit his first career attempt, converting from 29 yards out in the first quarter. True freshman Sam Ficken also earned his first career make with a 43-yarder in the fourth quarter.
Fera took over for walk-on Evan Lewis, a converted receiver/defensive back, who was 1-for-5 on the season, hitting only a 43-yarder against Alabama. Ficken had the Lions’ other attempt, a 49-yard try that was blocked against Temple.
“We’ve just gotta keep plugging away and try to get those kids a little bit more confidence in themselves,” Paterno said. “We spent an awful lot of time on the kicking game this past week. I thought we were better. We still weren’t where I’d like us to be, but I thought we were better.”
Senior captain Derek Moye had six catches for 65 yards and two touchdowns, and continued his rise in the Penn State record books.
Moye became the sixth player in Penn State history to top 2,000 career receiving yards, and his 2,026 total puts him third all-time behind Bobby Engram and Deon Butler.
The two scores put him fourth all-time with 17 career receiving touchdowns.
“I feel honored to be on the list,” Moye said. “At the same time, I’m just worried about trying to get wins and trying to improve our offense this season.”
Devon Smith had his first career 100-yard receiving game, finishing with 104 yards, including a 71-yard swing pass that he turned into a touchdown.
True freshman receiver Bill Belton came up with his first career catch. He’s still looking for his first career yard. A bubble screen to the shifty rookie was sniffed out by the Eagles for no gain.
Walk-on quarterbacks Shane McGregor and Garrett Venuto both got in the game in the fourth quarter and completed their first career passes.