A game that started as badly as it could’ve for Penn State took a turn for the positive soon after halftime.
But it didn’t turn out exactly the way the Nittany Lions wanted in the end Saturday night at Beaver Stadium.
After coming back from a 17-point halftime deficit to No. 13 Ohio State, Penn State’s rally fell short when quarterback Christian Hackenberg was dropped at the Ohio State 28 yard-line in a second overtime period. Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa flew up the middle of Penn State’s offense and pushed running back Akeel Lynch back into Hackenberg’s legs. As Hackenberg fell to the grass, the rest of the No. 13 Buckeyes stormed it to celebrate a 31-24 win in a game in which Penn State was nearly a two-touchdown underdog at home.
“We’re that close, we really are,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “We truly believe with a little patience, a great attitude and work ethic, we’ll get to where we want to be.”
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A stingy, hard-hitting, ball-hawking defense nearly got them there. Penn State’s defense forced two turnovers, came up with three sacks and held the Buckeyes to just 122 second-half and overtime yards. More importantly, the Nittany Lions kept the Buckeyes out of the end zone over the last two quarters of regulation.
Anthony Zettel and Mike Hull turned in second-half interceptions while Brandon Bell added a sack and the Nittany Lions scored 17 unanswered points in the second half to force overtime.
Zettel ended a string of 126 passes thrown without an interception by Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett and he did so emphatically. Zettel reached up and snagged a pass over the middle and returned it 40 yards for his first career touchdown early in the third quarter.
“Zettel’s play was a really big play in the game,” Franklin said.
Hull made another to spark Penn State’s offense four drives later. The Nittany Lions’ defensive captain lunged to intercept another pass thrown over the middle and set Penn State up at midfield.
The Nittany Lions drew closer with their first offensive touchdown in seven quarters at home when Hackenberg fired deep to true freshman Saeed Blacknall, who out-leapt Eli Apple to cut Ohio State’s lead to 17-14.
Penn State tied the game at 17 apiece with a 19-play, 77-yard scoring drive that ate most of the last three minutes off the clock. Hackenberg went 10 of 13 on the drive that ended when Sam Ficken hit a 32-yard field goal to tie the game with nine seconds left.
Bill Belton put Penn State ahead in the first overtime with a one-yard touchdown run, but the Buckeyes equaled it with a five-yard run from quarterback J.T. Barrett, then took the lead for good when Barrett crossed the goal line from four yards out to start the second overtime.
And as quickly as the majority of a sold out crowd of 107,895 got loud and shook the stadium at the end of regulation, it got quiet again in the wake of Penn State’s third-straight loss, the first such losing streak since the 2004 team lost six straight.
But Penn State nearly snapped out of a midseason funk in dramatic fashion.
The Buckeyes had scored at least 50 points in each of their last four games but didn’t find the end zone in the second half thanks to a gritty effort from Penn State’s defense.
The game began in a scary fashion for Penn State.
Senior running back Zach Zwinak was carted off the field with an apparent left leg injury after he was hurt throwing a block on the game’s opening kickoff. It continued to go poorly for the Nittany Lions, who were the victims of a bad call that spoiled their opening drive.
Ohio State intercepted Hackenberg’s third pass of the game — a reception made by Buckeye cornerback Vonn Bell — and got a break when the interception was upheld by officials after review. Although the replay showed the ball hitting the ground as Bell tried to gain possession, the Buckeyes kept the ball and went 39 yards in seven plays for the game’s first touchdown.
Buckeye running back Ezekiel Elliott beat Penn State defenders to the outside and lunged inside the pylon to cash in on Penn State’s controversial turnover. It wasn’t the only call that sent the Beaver Stadium crowd and Penn State sideline into uproars.
Ohio State added a 49-yard field goal in the second quarter when it appeared the play clock had expired. Sean Nuernberger settled for three points after Deion Barnes sacked Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett on third down. The Buckeyes padded their lead with a six-play, 39-yard drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown pass from Barrett to tight end Jeff Heuerman.
On Penn State’s final drive of regulation, the clock kept running when it should’ve stopped twice, prompting multiple delays and requiring clock resets.
After the game, Franklin refused to address the officiating, saying he didn’t want to say anything that would get him fined by the Big Ten.
Penn State finished with just 16 rushing yards and 240 yards overall to Ohio State’s 293.