BELLEFONTE, Pa. – A former Penn State assistant football coach stunned a packed courtroom and backed out of a preliminary hearing at the last minute Tuesday, avoiding a face-to-face confrontation with accusers who his lawyer said were trying to cash in by making up stories of child sex abuse.

Jerry Sandusky pleaded not guilty, and vowed afterward to “stay the course, to fight for four quarters.”

His lawyer, Joe Amendola, then spoke for an hour on the courthouse steps, saying that some of the 10 men who accuse Sandusky of molesting them as children were out only to profit from civil lawsuits against the coach and Penn State.

A prosecutor said about 11 witnesses, most of them alleged victims, were ready to testify at the hearing.

An attorney for one called Sandusky a “coward” for not hearing his accusers’ testimony and derided the arguments that they were out for money, saying many were too old to sue Sandusky under Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations.

“It makes my blood boil,” said Harrisburg lawyer Ben Andreozzi, who read a statement by his client, identified in a grand jury report as Victim 4, who was said to have become a fixture at one point in the Sandusky household.

Sandusky, 67, faces 52 criminal counts for what a grand jury called a series of sexual assaults and abuse of 10 boys dating back to the 1990s.

The charges devastated the university and led to the departures of coach Joe Paterno and the university’s president and charges against two administrators accused of lying to a grand jury and failing to report the suspected abuse.

Amendola told reporters Tuesday that Sandusky is an emotional, physical man — “a loving guy, an affectionate guy” — who never did anything illegal.

The lawyer said the preliminary hearing would not have allowed him to delve into the witnesses’ credibility.

Sandusky remains free on $250,000 bail.

Amendola and state prosecutors confirmed that no one had started plea bargain talks.