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Penn State students rally in support of Joe Paterno

Even as calls for Joe Paterno's ouster grow, Penn State students held rallies Tuesday night in support of the legendary head coach.

By Ian SimpsonReuters / November 9, 2011

Students rally in front of Penn State University's administrative office in State College, Penn. November 8, 2011.

REUTERS/Tim Shaffer

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STATE COLLEGE, Penn.

As many called for Penn State head coach Joe Paterno to step down, thousands of students raced through the streets and across the Penn State University campus on Tuesday night as part of a protest rally to support the embattled football coach.

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Police in riot gear were unable to control the raucous crowd as it quickly moved from a downtown side street to the main administration building on the campus. Hundreds of students also gathered outside Paterno's house Tuesday night, chanting and cheering in support for the legendary Penn State coach. Shortly after 10 p.m. Paterno came out and spoke them briefly before leading them in a short "We are Penn State" cheer.

The atmosphere at the campus rally was a combination of pep rally and rock concert before the stampede began.

"We're here to support our school. It's getting such a bad reputation," said Nicole Atlak, an 18-year-old freshman told Reuters.

Students at Penn State had rallied in support of football coach Joe Paterno at two sites on Tuesday.

There were no indications of injuries or violence.

On Tuesday, pressure mounted on Paterno, the winningest coach in U.S. major college football history and an icon in the state, to retire amid a widening scandal involving allegations that a long-time former assistant coach sexually abused boys for over a decade and school officials covered it up.

Calls also mounted for university President Graham Spanier to step down amid outrage over the case involving Paterno's former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

Paterno, 84, missed his first chance to publicly address questions regarding the scandal when a scheduled news conference was abruptly canceled on Tuesday by university officials.

The coach is not a target of the investigation, but was told in 2002 of an incident involving Sandusky and a minor. He has been criticized, along with other top university officials, for not doing more to intervene to protect the young boys allegedly being abused by Sandusky.

( Editing by Karin Matz and Peter Bohan)