UNIVERSITY PARK — The former high school rivals combined to give Penn State an early jolt in Saturday’s 35-23 loss to Ohio State.
After more than 23 scoreless minutes to begin the game, Mike Hull helped fifth-year Mike Yancich fall into the biggest play of his career.
The Nittany Lions took a 7-0 lead when Hull blocked Ben Buchanan’s punt and Yancich pounced on the ball in the end zone. The touchdown was the first of Yancich’s career and sent a roar through a crowd that exceeded 107,000 fans.
Nobody had bigger chills after the play than Yancich. The fifth-year senior has spent his entire career stuck behind talented linebackers. This season, Yancich has joined fellow linebackers Hull and Ben Kline as special teams stalwarts.
“First off, I never thought it would happen,” Yancich said. “It was truly a tremendous feeling. Words can’t describe what was going through my mind and my body.”
It was fitting a play by Hull led to the touchdown. Hull and Yancich both played high school in Washington County in western Pennsylvania, and Hull’s Canon-McMillan teams met Yancich’s Trinity squads on a regular basis.
“It’s nice to see us working together now,” Yancich said.
Their chemistry was evident on the block. Hull stormed through the right side of Ohio State’s line untouched and lunged toward Buchanan. The ball ricocheted off Hull’s body and bounced into the end zone.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Hull said. “As soon as you come free, your heart starts racing. You just want to make the play and help the team.”
Seeing Yancich recover the ball added to Hull’s euphoria.
“That’s great for him,” Hull said. “He deserves it. He works real hard.”
Three of the game’s biggest plays occurred on punts.
A controversial defensive holding penalty against Penn State on a second-quarter punt allowed the Buckeyes to extend the following drive, which ultimately lasted 12 plays, traveled 75 yards and ended with Carlos Hyde scoring on a 1-yard run. The touchdown tied the game 7-7.
Then, in the third quarter, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien called a fake punt on a fourth-and-9 from Ohio State’s 43-yard line. Derek Day dropped Alex Butterworth’s pass, giving the ball to the Buckeyes, who went on a 10-play, 57-yard scoring march to take a 21-10 lead.
“I thought it was a good call,” said Hull, who was one of Butterworth’s targets on the play. “We just needed to execute. That was a big part of the game and we didn’t capitalize.”
The teams combined to punt 11 times.
Penn State’s secondary finally has an interception.
Cornerback Adrian Amos intercepted Braxton Miller’s pass to Corey Brown in the third quarter. The pick was the first by a Penn State defensive back this season.
Penn State entered the game with six interceptions. Linebacker Michael Mauti leads the team with three.
Sharing the duties
Penn State ran through its list of seniors, so O’Brien devised a creative way to split Saturday’s captain duties.
Matt McGloin, Matt Stankiewitch, Jordan Hill, Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti participated in the coin toss. The rest of Penn State’s senior class stood five yards behind the quintet.
O’Brien is rotating captains on a game-by-game basis. Final captains will be selected before the season finale against Wisconsin.
Senior defensive tackle James Terry registered his first of the season in the second quarter. ...McGloin passed for 327 yards to tie Kerry Collins for the school record with four 300-yard passing games. ... Penn State will play Purdue at 3:30 p.m. in West Lafayette on Saturday. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.