10-30-2008 100
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Posted on October 27, 2008 4:59 AM

Fans flood streets after game victory

The Nittany Lions' 13-6 triumph over Ohio State sent thousands of cheering students into the streets of State College, pounding on cars, tearing out bushes and pulling down streetlights in their frenzied celebration, dispersing only under clouds of pepper spray.

"Celebrations are fine," State College Police Chief Tom King said. "This turned from a celebration to people being destructive, and that's unacceptable."

State College Police said fans tore down two lampposts and at least two parking meters during the night. At least six cars along Beaver Avenue were damaged, including a police cruiser, police said.

"We're still trying to calculate all of the damage," State College Police Lt. John Wilson said.

No arrests were made, Wilson said, but police collected identification in some

cases and they anticipate arrests within the next couple of weeks.

Police reported no serious injuries. This was the first major downtown disturbance since March 2001, when students swarmed onto Beaver Avenue after Penn State lost to Temple University in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, police said.

Public Works Director Mark Whitfield said the night's destruction could cost the borough about $10,000 in repairs.

The night began suddenly. Ecstatic students rushed to McLanahan's Student Store, 414 E. College Ave., and the intersection of Calder Way and Garner Street soon after the game's 11 p.m. conclusion, chanting "We Are Penn State!" and "We're No. 1!" in bouncing masses. Celebrants held camera phones above the crowd, recording the jubilation; students rode on the shoulders of friends, pumping their fists.

"It's a gnarly night, for sure," James Myers (senior-neuroscience) said. "Can't describe it any other way."

From there, revelers crowded into the intersection of College Avenue and Shortlidge Road, jumping, screaming and climbing on cars. One woman driving a red sedan looked on as the crush of students pounded on her windshield, climbed onto her hood and stood on the roof of her vehicle.

The celebration swept down College Avenue and up Locust Lane in an impromptu march, Penn State flags swinging. Police cruisers were ready, funneling students onto Beaver Avenue, where officers from State College, Penn State, Spring Township, Ferguson Township, Patton Township and Bellefonte police departments waited in riot gear.

Their exuberance barely restrained by the rough police cordon, students lined the street around the intersection of Beaver Avenue and Locust Lane, the epicenter for the celebration.

Officers kept the street open, cars crawling in the narrow corridor between the walls of students. Some drivers blasted "Zombie Nation," slapping high fives with revelers and dancing in the beds of pickup trucks.

"Get out of the street!" police shouted. "Hell, no, we won't go!" the crowd responded.

"This is absolute chaos," Colleen Geyer (senior-theatre) said. "I can't believe this is happening -- and it's not even a home game."

But as the night progressed, the scene on the streets grew uglier. Students pushed further onto Beaver Avenue from the sidewalks, ignoring police orders to move back. Fans climbed lampposts, tearing two from their concrete moorings. Toilet paper, bushes and footballs flew as the crowd throbbed to the beat of a cymbal from the apartments above.

"This is f------ amazing -- I'm keeping this f------ light!" Dennis Dunne (senior-hotel, restaurant and institutional management) said, proudly hoisting his end of a fallen street lamp aloft. "I'm going to probably frame it or something, keep it right next to my bed. That's an artifact right there that will go down in history."

Finally, officers flipped down their face guards and brought out the pepper spray, sending clouds of eye-stinging mist over the boisterous crowd, scattering students down Beaver Avenue.

"Don't rub it!" one student shouted. "That just makes it worse!"

College Mart, 128 Locust Lane, did brisk business in milk sales as teary students crowded the store, seeking relief for their burning eyes.

"This is not a good look for me," Matt Serniak (senior-criminal justice) said, pouring milk into his eyes. Mike Benecke, night manager at College Mart, could only look on in sympathy.

"They should just let the kids celebrate," he said.

At points, the police's intervention made them the targets for bushes, debris and shouted obscenities. Some officers shot blasts of pepper spray directly into the faces of individual students.

Afterward, as police ran off stragglers and soggy toilet paper lay in clumps on the ground, Whitfield, of Public Works, bent over a circuit box and cut the current for the two downed light posts. The night's chaos didn't result in anything near the damage of the 1998 Arts Fest riots, he said, but the revelry could still end up costing the borough a sizeable sum.

That cost will come back to the students, he said.

"When they pay their rent, part of that rent goes to real estate taxes," he said. "They're going to end up giving us more money to fix these things."