As a child of a family of Penn Staters, I’ve seen a few generations of Nittany Lion rivalries roll through my household. My dad’s remains Notre Dame. Mine, Ohio State.
Temple can probably be a close second after that, but Ohio State has been my Public Enemy No. 1 since before I started at Penn State in 2011. My college career began with a surprise win over Ohio State, Penn State’s first win without Joe Paterno since 1965, and I was hoping it would end with one in 2014.
The Buckeyes were at the peak of their strength — and hate-ability — then. The year prior, Urban Meyer and his lack of empathy was the cause of Penn State’s worst loss in more than 100 years. Ohio State fans and their self-righteous ways put them just under the Pittsburgh Penguins on Mary’s List of Extremely Dislikable Sports Teams (and look how well that worked out for me this year with the Stanley Cup). I got the four-overtime win against Michigan a year prior, but I was hungry for more.
Penn State’s 2014 season had a pretty dramatic start under new head coach James Franklin. The 26-24 win over UCF in Ireland set the tone, and from there the Nittany Lions won four straight — including two big blowouts over Akron and Massachusetts while barely squeaking by against Rutgers.
Then, Penn State hit a wall, a Big one if you’ll excuse the pun. The struggling offensive line couldn’t hold up against stronger opponents and losses to Big Ten opponents in Northwestern and Michigan had the Nittany Lions facing the No. 13 team in the country on a two game losing streak with their strong start far in the rearview mirror.
Contrast that to Ohio State, who were on a 5-1 tear with the only blip a loss to Virginia Tech in week two. The Buckeyes were expected to steamroll right over the Nittany Lions, and my heart in the process. What did happen though was no where near what anyone was expecting.
The two blown calls heard around the world
Arguably the most gut-wrenching and frustrating part of the eventual double overtime loss was how Ohio State got to their 17-0 lead to start the first half. You may recall the officials blew not one, but two calls that directly led to 10 Ohio State points.
The first led to Ohio State’s first touchdown of the night, after a low Christian Hackenberg pass was deemed to be intercepted by defensive back Vonn Bell.
I don’t have to tell you that’s an incomplete pass and not an interception. Anyone with eyes can tell you that. Yet, the ball was given to Ohio State and seven plays later, the Buckeyes had a 7-0 lead.
Later in the second quarter, Ohio State lined up for a field goal attempt and were allowed to play the ball three seconds after the clock had run out.
The missed delay of game call gave the Buckeyes a 10-0 lead, which started to feel insurmountable considering all that had come before it.
Both blown calls had shades of the 2012 Nebraska game written all over them, that somehow Penn State was being screwed out of a game for no reason. It certainly felt that way in the stands from my position in the student section and it was hard not to keep my mind from wandering to thoughts of alternate universes and what the game would have looked like had the correct calls had been made.
And yet, there was hope!
I don’t think I was ever more thankful for Penn State’s defense than I was on October 25, 2014. Despite the rage-inducing first half, the biggest constant in the game was how dominant the Nittany Lion defense was. Our own Jared Slanina wrote maybe the truest words he’s ever written for this site when previewing the game:
The Penn State defense will be the best the Buckeyes have faced thus far in 2014. They will need to not only shut down the run, something they do better than anyone in the nation, but also apply enough pressure to Barrett to force him into making bad decisions to force a few turnovers.
Anthony Zettel’s Pick 6 to start the third quarter started the rally after J.T. Barrett threw right into the blitz for his first big mistake of the night.
A missed field goal and a second interception from Barrett, this time grabbed by Mike Hull, set Penn State up for a nearly three minute, 19-play drive. Hackenberg started on Penn State’s 9 yard line and completed nine passes — while running for two key third down conversions! — that set up Sam Ficken’s tying 31-yard field goal.
The defense allowed no Ohio State points in the second half and made key plays that allowed Hackenberg and the offense to tie the game at 17-17 that forced overtime.
Yet, the comeback was not to be.
No second double overtime miracle
Ohio State showed exactly why they were crowned the best team in college football. The Nittany Lions may have scored first, but Barrett basically did it all himself in both overtimes with two touchdown runs, aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty assessed against Hull on the winning drive. The Buckeye defense sacked Hackenberg for the final time to end the game and I, like many others that night, went home with a bitter taste in my mouth.
All things considered, a loss to Ohio State may have been the best thing to happen to Penn State. Because of it, the Nittany Lions landed in the Pinstripe Bowl — their first bowl game since the sanctions — against Boston College, and they won! A win would have placed them in consideration for a more recognized — but likely more difficult — game.
Ficken probably wouldn’t have ended the year the same way he started it, with a kick that helped Penn State to a victory. Sure, my No. 1 rival Ohio State ended the year as the National Champions thanks in part to this victory. Yet, in a 7-6 season, it’s quite a miracle that Penn State was able to take the eventual college football champions to a double overtime game.
The Nittany Lions played some fantastic football in the loss, something no one believed they would say considering the few weeks they had before the game. To take Ohio State to a double overtime despite a pair of crucial missed calls and to lose on the basis that the Buckeyes were just the better football team that evening is a huge consolation on a night where Penn State could have just as easily been blown out of the water.
It's a loss that still burns when I think about it. However, in the grand scheme of the 2014 season, to have taken Ohio State to the edge of defeat is a fate I don't think I would change.