Illinois seemingly had a the perfect answer to tie the game against No. 21 Penn State. Senior kicker Derek Dimke hadn't missed all season, hitting all seven of his field-goal attempts - until Saturday.
Dimke's 42-yard attempt banged off the right upright as time expired in a roller-coaster fourth quarter that ended with No. 21 Penn State's emotional 10-7 victory in snowy Happy Valley.
"That's the kind of kick I dream about," Dimke said. "At Penn State, in the snow, it doesn't get any better. It's a kick I've got to make."
So ended a last-ditch attempt to spoil a milestone night for Joe Paterno, who broke Eddie Robinson's record for victories by a Division I coach with No. 409.
Among all coaches, Paterno now only trails John Gagliardi, still active at Division III St. John's, Minn., with 481 victories.
The Nittany Lions (8-1, 5-0 Big Ten) overcame six fumbles - losing two - with Silas Redd's 3-yard touchdown run with 1:08 to go.
llinois (6-3, 2-3) had one last chance. They drove from its 17 to the Penn State 25 before Dimke's barely errant kick.
Penn State linebacker Nate Stupar thought Penn State had just enough of a push up front to possibly throw off Dimke. Teammate Nick Sukay said he was using a little "body English" as the ball sailed through the air, trying to encourage the kick to inch right. Dimke didn't make excuses.
"Everybody's got to do their job and I didn't do my job today," he said.
It was far from the only mistake on the night for the Illini. But it stood out the most after Penn State fans let out a collective sigh of relief and celebrated in the stands.
Illinois has now lost three straight after a perfect 6-0 start.
"I know all of us are hurting, all of us are going to struggle for a few hours," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "But they've got to get over it. We've got to learn from it ... Obviously, I don't think they need to walk out of there and be embarrassed."
Redd had a career-high 30 carries for 137 yards for Penn State, none bigger than his late run set up after Illinois corner Justin Green was whistled for pass interference after breaking up a fourth-down pass for Derek Moye in the end zone.
The Nittany Lions' 84-year-old leader watched from the press box on a snowy Saturday in Happy Valley that had fans bundled up in winter parkas and hoodies. Paterno's right leg and shoulder are still sore after an accidental hit in practice in the preseason.
The fourth-quarter flurry surely brought a smile to his face.
After struggling most of the afternoon, quarterback Matt McGloin drove Penn State from their own 20 to the Illini 32 on three long completions before the pass interference call gave the Nittany Lions a second chance.
Redd capitalized four plays later by barreling into the end zone, the crowd erupting in delight.
Jason Ford rushed for 100 yards on 24 carries but Illinois couldn't capitalize on a slew of Penn State mistakes in a defensive slugfest.
The Illini's struggling offense wasn't much better than Penn State, but they got just got enough in the third quarter from scrambling quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase to scratch out a 10-yard touchdown pass to Spencer Harris for a 7-0 lead.
Illinois' defense held firm from there until Penn State's late TD drive.
Moye, back after missing two games because of a left foot injury, dropped a third-down pass to groans from the crowd on the winning drive. McGloin went for Moye on fourth down with 1:31 left, and the ball bounced off the receiver's hands in the end zone - but there was contact and the interference penalty gave Penn State another chance.
Zook could only wince on the sideline as a once-quiet Penn State crowd burst back to life.
Illinois' struggling offense couldn't get untracked again early, going scoreless in the first half for a third straight game. They wasted opportunities deep in Penn State territory following fumbles by Redd at his own 37 in the first half, and quarterback Rob Bolden at the 29 late in the second quarter.
After the Bolden fumble, Illinois still couldn't take advantage after driving to the 4. An illegal procedure penalty pushed them back to the 9, then holder Tim Russell mishandled the snap on a 26-yard field goal attempt and threw a wobbly pass intercepted by defensive end Sean Stanley to preserve a scoreless first half.
Scheelhaase finished 9 of 16 for 63 yards, and ran 14 times for 89 yards.