BSD is chronicling 15 of Penn State's best games since joining the Big Ten in 1993. For more on the series, click here. Today, Tony Pittman and Lou Prato talk about Penn State's epic 2005 victory against Ohio State at Beaver Stadium.
Earlier in our "Greatest Games" series, contributor Adam Collyer said of the 2002 Nebraska game "You never forget the first time that college truly takes your breath away. Sure, the classes were tougher, the parties were ridiculous, and the girls were amazing. But Saturday, September 14, 2002, at 8:00 PM was the moment that the Penn State Class of 2006 arrived."
In the fall of 2005, I was neither in college, nor experiencing amazing women. Quite the contrary, actually. I was a high school freshman at a big public school, still adjusting to the move from a small Catholic grade school in suburban Pittsburgh. Most of my closest friends had gone to Catholic high school, and for the first time in my life, outside my family, I felt fairly alone in this big, cruel world.
As the warm September days faded to a cold, damp October, however, I found an upstart group of Nittany Lions offered a great escape from the turbulent reality that was my life at the time. Led by quarterback Michael Robinson, linebacker Paul Posluszny and a stellar class of freshman including Derrick Williams, Justin King, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood, Penn State had raced out to a 5-0 start and No. 16 ranking in the polls after four losing seasons in five years.
As No. 6 Ohio State rolled into town on October 8, the stage was set for the Penn State moment that first took my breath away.
After attending Penn State's 44-14 clobbering of Minnesota the week before, I practically begged my dad to take my back to Happy Valley for the Lions' clash with the Buckeyes. A few days of pestering later, he relented, and agreed to ride up early Saturday morning to catch College Gameday, live from the Bryce Jordan Center.
Without much traffic on the roads, we made the journey in record time and pulled into a misty State College just past 8:00 a.m. Pops swooped in on the first parking space in the lot and we walked over to the BJC to see the show. The crowd there was lively, and we had a great time until Lee Corso ruined the mood and put the Brutus headgear on.
With that, we stormed off to The Diner downtown, where I consumed my traditional steak and eggs meal topped off, of course, by a grilled stickie. It was about that time that we realized we still didn't have tickets for the game, so we began moseying back toward the stadium, holding two fingers high in the air.
It was one of the stiffest ticket markets I can remember. We walked around for a good 30-45 minutes before a gentleman finally stopped us and offered tickets for just over $60. Figuring that was reasonable for a game of this magnitude, we accepted to offer and headed off to a tailgate, where we hung around until just before kickoff.
Finally, around 7:00 p.m., it was time to head into Beaver Stadium for the game. To this day, I can't remember a crowd packing in the way it did that night. Just a flood of people decended on the building at exactly the same time. We were shoulder-to-shoulder with folks for a good half hour before we finally arrived at our seats on about the north 20-yard line on the east side of the stadium.
From the opening kickoff, the crowd was on its feet and the atmosphere was electric. Ohio State struck first with a field goal in the first quarter, but Penn State punched back hard when Williams finished off a long drive with a 13-yard touchdown run early in the second.
Then came a series of plays I'll probably never forget.
On the ensuing Ohio State drive, Tamba Hali sacked the Buckeyes' Troy Smith for a six-yard loss.
Zombie Nation blared.
On second down, Smith was whacked and threw and incomplete pass.
More Zombie Nation.
On third down, Calvin Lowry picked Smith off and returned the ball to the Ohio State two yardline.
At that point, pandemonium I've experienced neither before or since broke loose in the stands. Zombie Nation throbbed again, the entire crowd bouncing along. I stood still on the bleachers for a moment and felt the tin beneath me recede what had to have been at least six inches with each rhythmic pulse of the mob. I actually questioned whether I was safe for a moment before throwing myself head first back into the celebration.
A few plays later, Robinson punched the ball in for a score that put Penn State up 14-3. Ohio State answered with a touchdown before halftime, but the Lions added a Kevin Kelly field goad coming out of the locker room to set the score at 17-10.
The rest of the second half was classic Joe Paterno vs. Jim Tressel. The teams exchanged what seemed like and endless series of punts, playing things conservatively deep into the fourth quarter.
With 3:48 to play, Smith and the Buckeyes took the ball back for one final charge at a score to knot the game at 17. After Hali got to Smith for a sack on first down to pin Ohio State on its own five, the Buckeye quarterback rallied for completions of 27 and 20 yards to Ted Ginn Jr. and Santonio Holmes to get his team to midfield. A 3-yard completion to Roy Hall on first down got Ohio State into Penn State territory, but one 2nd down, the Penn State defense made perhaps the its play of a generation.
Hali broke free and pounded Smith in the backfield, forcing a fumble. Penn State's Scott Paxson fell on the ball to give the Lions possession and seal the victory. After a few team rushes, the whited-out Penn State student section stormed the field and cast off a half-decade of "Dark Years" anguish for good.
Penn State was back, with a vengeance.
The postgame stats weren't pretty. Robinson led Penn State in passing with just 78 yards on 11 completions in the sloppy conditions. Tony Hunt managed just 64 yards on the ground for Penn State on 16 carries and no receiver went for more yards than Norwood's 36. It was enough to get the job done, however, and move the Lions to 6-0 and sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.
After the game, Paterno praised his defense.
"I thought the defense was absolutely superb," Paterno said. "There was a lot of pressure. One mistake and it's the entire ballgame."
Ohio State gained just 230 total yards in the game and averaged just 4.6 yards per pass play. The offense played a turnover free game, and it helped put the Lions over the top on this night, one few Penn State fans, including a 15 year-old from suburban Pittsburgh, won't soon forget.
When my dad and I got back to the car, I grabbed a permanent market from the glove compartment, flipped on the dome light and inscribed "PSU 17 OSU 10 10/8/05: inside my hat. To this day, no Penn State scores have joined it.
There's a chance none ever will.
Nothing captures the heart and spirit of the Ohio State game in 2005 than the large color photo on display on the main floor of the Lasch Building football complex. The photo shows Buckeye quarterback Troy Smith frozen upside down in the split second after he was hit by Penn State defensive end Tamba Hali at midfield causing the fumble that clinched the emotional 17-10 victory with less and 1:30 to play. The play itself was spectacular, but it is the eerie, misty night time setting that gives the scene extra drama. Of course, it doesn’t show defensive tackle Scott Paxon falling on the ball, nor can you see or hear the pandemonium of the frenzied, near record crowd of 109,134. But anyone who saw the game will remember that play forever. The win by the then No. 16 Nittany Lions over the then No.6 Buckeyes thrust Penn State into the Big Ten Conference lead and told the college football world that Pernn State football was back among the elite after five years of almost hitting bottom.
However, what was equally memorable to me that week was the start of Paternoville and the national attention attracted by those ingenious students who spontaneously created a new and proud tradition by pitching their tents and camping outside the student gate of Beaver Stadium for nearly a week. Students had camped out before other games over the years but never en masse at that location. In fact, the downward losing spiral between 2000 and 2005 had sapped the spirits of the students—and older fans, too—and the lethargy often led to many empty seats inside what seemed like a mausoleum rather than the second largest football stadium in the county. Little did I know what was about to happen when I saw those first couple of tents outside the gate on Monday morning. I was then the Director of the Penn State All-Sports Museum, and shortly after we opened someone said they saw a couple of tents outside Gate A. I went to the the concourse near the student section and looked down and saw the tents with a couple of kids standing there. I don’t remember if there were two or four tents, but I remember hollering down and asking what they were doing and gave them a few encouraging words. I think they told me they had been there since Sunday night. As I watched the camping build up over the next few days I was even more and more amazed. I still remember when Jay Paterno and some football players made a visit delivering pizzas and the ESPN cameras shooting video for their pregame programs. Not even all the rain that week dampened the spirits of those dedicated students
Those pioneering campers carried that spirit into the stadium that rainy evening, and with some assistance from the Penn State sports marking arm, the students were decked out white shirts—with thousands of other fans following their lead—in what was declared a "whiteout." No one could recall anything like that being done by fans at any other college football venue in the country, and when the hyped-up crowd literally shook the foundation of Beaver Stadium that whiteout night, the entire nation saw it or heard about it. Paternoville was here to stay. So were "whiteouts," although the name had to be changed to "whitehouses" for legal reasons. There have been a couple of other games since they came close to the energy and pandemonium in Beaver Stadium that night. But, at least to me, none have matched the electricity and total spirit of that night. And thanks to Tamba Hali it is still an unforgettable night.
In my opinion, this is the game that truly vaulted Beaver Stadium to the level of being truly regarded as The Greatest Show in College Football. At the start of the 2005 season, nobody gave Penn State a shot being in a position to make that game against Ohio State meaningful in any way. We were coming off of one of the worst years in school history. But, 2005 would prove to be a very special year, and that night against the Buckeyes was truly magical.
I watched from the sidelines with many former teammates, including O. J. McDuffie and KiJana Carter. The game was close throughout, but after the late sack by Tamba Hali forced Troy Smith to fumble, the game was sealed, and Penn State was truly back. Just like that monumental collapse against Minnesota in 1999 marked the beginning of a difficult decline, the 2005 triumph over Ohio State really put Penn State back on the road toward once again becoming a perennial national power. It was an absolutely huge win.
Another from the "10 Minutes Or Less" series from our friends at Linebacker-U.