Penn State just dealt No. 2 Ohio State its first loss of the season. The Nittany Lions won in Happy Valley on Saturday night, 24-21, leaving Michigan atop the Big Ten East, the Buckeyes down but not nearly out, and Penn State with its biggest win in years.
A thrilling Grant Haley blocked-field goal return gave Penn State its first lead of the game, 24-21, with less than five minutes to play, and the Nittany Lions’ defense stood up afterward to give James Franklin the signature win he’s lacked for so long.
Penn State fans stormed the field afterward, and why not? It’s been a tough few years for a program whose players and coaches weren’t involved in the scandal that’s set them back, and now they’ve got a win to remember forever. They were three-touchdown underdogs on their own field, and their team won anyway.
On Saturday, it was quickly clear that Penn State wasn’t going to be an easy out. Ohio State took a 12-0 lead, but a Nittany Lions touchdown just before halftime gave the game a closer feeling. The Buckeyes opened the second half with a 74-yard Curtis Samuel touchdown run, and Penn State safetied itself on a bad snap on a punt. That made it 21-7, and the Lions had a long way to climb back. Things seemed dark.
But the Lions scored next to make it 21-14, and a blocked punt in Ohio State territory with 12 minutes left made it look like the Lions were about to tie the game. The Buckeyes held them to a field goal that made it 21-17, and that kept Penn State at bay. But then Haley’s return happened, and the tide had fully turned.
Ohio State had a chance to tie the game with a field goal or win it with a touchdown after that, but Penn State’s defense stood up. Jason Cabinda sacked J.T. Barrett on third-and-10 to bring up a fourth-and-23 with Ohio State’s unbeaten season on the line. Then Penn State sacked Barrett again. Game over.
Franklin’s had valid excuses not to beat the Big Ten East’s best teams in three years in his current job, but a goose egg is a goose egg. He’ll be delighted to have it taken off the board, and more importantly, to have Penn State 5-2 and ranked on Sunday.
Penn State had already done some encouraging things this year, and the Lions have beaten everyone they’ve been expected to beat. But Ohio State’s a different beast altogether, and now Penn State has conquered it, at least for the moment.
The Buckeyes have now had a few weeks of relative difficulty. This loss follows an overtime triumph at Wisconsin last Saturday, where the Buckeyes really had to grit things out. Life hasn’t looked as easy as it once did, and now, shocking as it is, Penn State is ahead of the Buckeyes in the Big Ten East on a tiebreaker.
Penn State only has one conference loss, to Michigan. The Buckeyes now have the same total, with the Wolverines still unbeaten. The Big Ten’s divisional tiebreakers get a bit complicated. But based on their overall records, Ohio State and Michigan are still likelier than not to have a play-in game on Nov. 26 to reach the conference title game.