Unlike other Penn State-Michigan showdowns, the 1995 edition really didn't mean much for either team in terms of Big Ten or national title implications. By mid-November, it was a two-horse race between Ohio State and an upstart Cinderella story of a Northwestern team for the right to go to the Rose Bowl. What it lacked in such implications however, it more than made up for as far as a gameday atmosphere was concerned.
I remember when the snowstorm hit rather unexpectedly around Tuesday of that week, dumping a solid foot-and-a-half of snow upon State College and most of Centre County. Schools in the area ending up shutting down for the remainder of that week. I have some not-so-fond memories of sitting in a powerless house, wearing a couple layers of sweatshirts and still feeling somewhat cold, since our house back then was heated via electricity. I recall listening intently to the radio on my parents' boombox to get updates on when approximately, we could expect the power to come back.
Meanwhile, there was an even greater crisis at Beaver Stadium, as the snow had completely engulfed the stands and the field, mere days before the game was slated to kickoff. In addition to the grounds crew and local volunteers, prisoners were bussed in from the nearby Rockview State Correctional Facility in order to help clear the snow in time. It took a round-the-clock effort, but the snow was indeed cleared just in time for the game, and you could see just how much it had snowed in the forms of piles pushed against the railings on both sidelines on the field (the piles themselves were taller than any of the players or coaches).
I don't recall much about who scored first (although some quick Googling revealed that PSU jolted out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter) or how the general flow of the game went. I even have a DVD copy of this game, but I haven't watched it in a few years when I last attempted to create a "10 Minutes or Less" highlight video to go up on YouTube (this was during a time when Mike Pettigano and I had been churning out such videos left and right back when we were writing for Linebacker-U.com). What I do recall however, was that the atmosphere was unlike any other PSU football game I have ever witnessed.
It was the type of atmosphere that makes me wish we had smartphones and YouTube back in 1995. The combination of a (presumably) drunk student section plus mass amounts of snow pushed underneath the benches in front of them led to a constant array of snowballs being thrown about the student section, many of them targeted at the referees and Michigan players who were unfortunate enough to be near the student section.I still recall seeing Michigan's star receiver Mercury Hayes (that's a name you never forget) getting pelted in the eye right after missing on a catch near the sideline by the student section. This was followed by Joe Paterno running over to the student section and yelling at them to cut it out. Of course, being (likely) drunk students at a football game, they didn't listen. Things got so out of the hand with the snowball-chucking that the PA announcer at the time (current radio play-by-play guy Steve Jones) repeatedly had to warn the students to stop, lest PSU be assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Such threats were never actually carried out by the refs, despite the students ignoring such warnings.
As for the actual game itself: The most pivotal moment came when clinging to a 20-17 lead with a little under three minutes to play in the game, and finding themselves in a 4th and goal situation at Michigan's 2-yard line, PSU trotted out Brett Conway to supposedly kick a chip shot field goal, forcing Michigan to have to march all the way to PSU's end zone in order to get the win. The plan all along however, was for the holder Joe Nastasi to run the ball himself into the end zone for a game-sealing touchdown.
Sure enough, the gamble worked to perfection and Nastasi ran it in untouched. My entire section went nuts, especially since some of us were likely fearing either Conway makes the field goal and Michigan has enough time to put together a drive downfield for the winning TD and extra point, or even worse, Conway misses the kick/has it blocked and Michigan either runs it back for a TD or puts themselves in great position to tie the game with a field goal of their own (this was about a year or so before college football abolished ties and installed the overtime system). Needless to say, many of us were pleasantly surprised by the gutsy call by Paterno and then-offensive coordinator Fran Ganter to try and end the game right there and then.
Indeed, PSU did hang on and win, 27-17. That team would go on to beat Michigan State in dramatic fashion the following week, thanks to the heroics of Bobby Engram. That win propelled them to the Outback Bowl, where they just laid an absolute shellacking on Auburn on New Year's Day 1996. Erstwhile, Michigan would go on to spoil their bitter rival's Rose Bowl dreams, defeating OSU and allowing Northwestern to lay claim to the Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth. So, in the end, both teams had those going for them...which was nice.