Jason Cabinda looked to the Penn State sideline holding out his left arm and clubbed hand.
The linebacker had missed the previous five games, relegated to the sideline and forced to settle for coaching up his teammates with a cast on that arm. But he returned Saturday night and held that arm out, giving a thumbs up to his teammates with his clubbed hand after sacking Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett for a loss of 13 yards on third down.
Another sack on fourth down sealed the Nittany Lions’ 24-21 upset of No. 2 Ohio State at Beaver Stadium.
Cabinda and linebacker Brandon Bell both came back from injury to spearhead a stout defensive effort as Penn State limited the Buckeyes well below their season scoring average of 49.3 points per game — which ranked fourth in the nation — to pull off the upset.
“I think something that B-Bell said after the game, he said, ‘I don’t want to see any of that crying stuff because this wasn’t anything fluke, this wasn’t a fluke win,’ ” Cabinda said. “But this is who we are, this is who we believe we can be and we’ll continue to be”
The Nittany Lions stayed within striking distance of the Buckeyes behind their defense before scoring the game-winning touchdown with 4:27 left in the fourth quarter. Penn State allowed just two first downs and 61 yards of total offense while keeping Ohio State off the board in the first quarter. With the defense keeping the Buckeyes in check, Penn State went into the break down by five points.
The unit continued to limit Ohio State in the second half. The Buckeyes scored one touchdown on a 74-yard run by Curtis Samuel in the third quarter, but failed to score in the fourth.
Bell, who started the team’s first two games before suffering an injury, led the team with 19 tackles to go with a sack. Cabinda had 12 tackles and a sack to help lead defensive coordinator Brent Pry’s unit.
“Our defense was unbelievable,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “I’ve been telling you guys for three years that this Brent Pry guy is pretty good, and he has stepped up. We lost seven linebackers this year for long periods of time, and our defense just kept grinding and grinding, making no excuses.”
Garrett Sickels provided a boost in the second half, making nine tackles and recording 2 1/2 sacks after being suspended for the first half.
“Maybe I should suspend him for the first half the rest of the season,” Franklin said. “... But what I also love is he was also one of the first guys to come up after the game and tell me how much he loved me.”
Barrett completed 28 of 43 passes for 245 yards and finished with 26 yards rushing on 17 carries against the Nittany Lions defense.
Cabinda was happy to be back after getting in fights with the trainers to try to get back on the field.
“Being out there again and playing for my teammates to my left and my right, there’s no better feeling,” Cabinda said.
His teammates were happy to have him back, too.
“It feels good to play right beside some of your brothers that you’ve been in the trenches with since day one,” safety Marcus Allen said. “My freshman year I played with Jason, we came in here like man we gonna do this and then to really do it, it felt really good.”
After the Nittany Lions took the lead in the fourth, Ohio State took over with 4:21 left.
Cabinda flashed back to the offseason to gear up for the drive.
“In my mind, I said to myself that it was the last winter workout of the winter strength and conditioning program and we have four and a half minutes left at the last station,” Cabinda said. “That’s what I said, that’s the mindset I took. I just said give it all you got.”
He came away with the crucial sack on third down.
And the Nittany Lions were soon celebrating.
“It was awesome,” Cabinda said. “I don’t really have words to describe that. That was the first time I’ve ever been a part of fans coming on the field and I mean it took me about a half hour to get back to the locker room.”