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A Therapeutic and Historic Victory: Penn State 24, OSU 21

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This win changes the trajectory of the program for the remainder of the season as well as the near future.

Ohio State v Penn State Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

It is impossible to overstate the importance of this victory. The win puts the Lions at 5-2 with only winnable games remaining on the schedule. Just one loss on the final drive on the road in Pittsburgh and one on the road in Michigan blemish the record of the team. The win keeps Penn State’s hope for a Big Ten and National Championship, however thin, alive.

Decades from now those who witnessed the win will recall the moment as though it happened earlier in the day. This was not a signature win for coach James Franklin and his team, this was the biggest win since Joe Paterno walked the sidelines with his pants rolled up over his black shoes.

Heading into the evening the experts predicted that the Buckeyes would win the game by nearly three touchdowns. The experts were wrong.

With just a little more than one minute remaining in the first half Ohio State kicked a field goal to extend the lead to 12-0. The weather conditions were cold, wet, with swirling winds that slowed down each team. It looked as though Urban Meyer’s team was beginning to take control of the game.

That was when Trace ‘Last Minute’ McSorley began to make plays. On a bleak third and eight with just 37 seconds left in the half and the ball spotted on the Penn State 28 yard line, the sophomore quarterback found Chris Godwin for a 19 yard gain near midfield. It was a gutsy throw and also a brazen play call by the offense, to continue to attack the Ohio State defense with so little time remaining in the half, down two scores.

On the next play the drive appeared to stall when Nick Bosa sacked McSorley and the Lions were forced to use its final timeout of the half with just twenty-nine ticks left on the clock. The winds were howling, the ball was wet, and to this point Penn State had kept up a good enough fight to play close with the second-best team in the nation. But that was not enough for coach James Franklin. On the next play McSorley threw the ball deep again, this time to DaeSean Hamilton, who was tackled at the Ohio State 20 yard line.

After an incomplete pass directed toward Saquon Barkley in the end zone, it appeared that the drive was set to reap just a field goal attempt, which would have been well enough for an unranked team, trailing by 12 to a supposed superior opponent. But that was not the way that Franklin and his new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead were thinking. They weren’t thinking about keeping the game close, they were looking to win. With just 15 seconds left in the half, McSorley found Chris Godwin in the end zone and the Lions went to half-time trailing by just five points, 12-7.

The soggy stage was set for what will be remembered as one of the great Penn State comeback victories of this century. Following a couple of punts to start the second half, Ohio State once again appeared to take control of the game. On third and 2 the Lions were hoping to stop OSU and get the ball back, instead Curtis Samuel broke the hearts of the Nittany Lion faithful momentarily when he scampered 74 yards to stretch the lead to 19-7.

The next drive reaped -1 yard for the Penn State offense and punter Blake Gillikin stood in formation ready to kick the ball away to the Buckeyes. An uncharacteristic bad snap from Tyler Yazujian sailed over the freshman punter’s hands and came to rest in the end zone. Showing the athleticism of a position player, Gillikin ran back to the ball and covered it for a safety, keeping Ohio State away from what may have been a game-sealing touchdown. It was a subtle difference at the time but the score would prove to be Ohio State’s final tally of the contest.

After the teams traded punts the Lions took possession of the ball, down 21-7, to begin the fourth quarter.

Once again faced with a hefty mountain to climb, Trace McSorley answered the call. He found Mike Gesicki for a 16 yard gain to begin the drive. Saquon Barkely ripped off a 37-yard run on the next play. McSorley found Saeed Blacknall with a looping 35-yard toss to the OSU 2 yard-line on the third play of the drive and two plays later ran to the right pilon to cut the lead to 7 points early in the final quarter.

On the next possession the Penn State defense didn’t just hold serve, they went on the offensive. After forcing a three and out at a critical moment, Cam Brown blocked the punt and Penn State took over at the OSU 28. The Lions settled for a field goal from Tyler Davis a few plays later and the score was 21-17 in favor of the Buckeyes.

OSU took the ball and ran a methodical five-minute drive to the Penn State 28 yard-line with just over 4 minutes remaining in the game. The team was set to kick a field goal that would extend the lead back to a touchdown. Instead Penn State made the play of the game when Marcus Allen blocked the attempt and Grant Haley scooped the ball up and ran 60 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

The Penn State defense held Ohio State’s final drive to just 12 yards on ten plays and the team got the ball back with 1:02 on the clock. With fans crying with joy in the stands, and yelling like crazy people at home, Trace McSorley took a knee and the clock expired with the Lions winning 24-21.

Fans emptied the stands inside Beaver Stadium and joined the team for celebration on the field. It is a moment that Penn State fans will remember for the rest of their lives. This wasn’t the biggest win of the year for the Lions, it was the greatest victory in generations. Not since 1964 has Penn State beaten a top-5 team while unranked, and it wasn’t just any team, it was the Ohio State University.

Odds and Ends

Every Team Was Special- Two blocked kicks led to the final ten points of the game for the Lions. Another special teams play, the recovery in the end zone by Blake Gillikin to hold the Ohio State team to 21 points instead of 26, kept the Lions in the game. But this was a complete team effort. The offense gained just enough yards to stay in the game. Saquon Barkley rushed for 99 yards, Trace McSorely passed for 154 yards, but the success came at just the right time. The defense, emboldened by the return of linebackers Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell, held steady against one of the most talented offenses in the country. The coaching staff did a masterful job on the sidelines for Penn State. Not to be forgotten, the fans inside the stadium were a big part of the atmosphere and undoubtedly aided the team and their emotions.

Emotions and Vindication- Many in the stands and at home got emotional following the victory. On the streets of State College fans exchanged hugs and kisses with strangers as though a war had been won, and in some ways it had. After five of the toughest years in Penn State football history, for the fans and the team, a sense of relief blankets the community.

How many times have the team and coach Franklin been asked to answer for not being as successful as their Big Ten rivals while ignoring the unfair challenges that they face that others do not? Those days are now behind us. With the passage of time and the collection of this historic win, Penn State is now on even ground with every team in the Big Ten. While young overall, the talent is there on the Lion roster to compete for the remainder of the season and in coming years with the top teams in the Big Ten.

While it may be hard to find a Penn State fan who made it through the night and this morning with dry eyes, the tears come for many reasons. When I think about what makes me most happy about the victory I think about the players, being interviewed by callous media who forget that they are dealing with young men who want nothing more in the world to be successful on the field. For years they have been asked one variation or another of the question, ‘When will the team be good enough to make me happy?’ by outsiders who act as though the players don’t want to win.

To a man, the coaches and players have weathered the storm of unfair expectations and insensitive questions with dignity and composure. I think about the feelings of the players and coaches, and not those of us outside the program, and the joy that they feel this morning as they wake from what may seem like the best dream of their lives. The happiness they feel brings lubrication to my eyes.