STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – A fourth quarter miracle. Again.
Ohio State took a big step toward winning the Big Ten East Division and maybe more with a 27-26 win over Penn State on Saturday night, something that looked improbable if not impossible when the Nittany Lions took a 26-14 lead with eight minutes left in the game.
But quarterback Dwayne Haskins threw two touchdown passes in the final 6:42 of the game and the defense stopped Penn State on a key fourth down play with just over a minute to play to get the win.
It was similar to last year’s 39-38 win over Penn State in Ohio Stadium when OSU came back from 15 points down in the fourth quarter.
The No. 4 Buckeyes (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) struggled to move the football consistently for most of the game and the defense didn’t have an answer for Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, who almost single-handedly led his team to victory.
No. 9 Penn State (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) went up 26-14 with eight minutes to play on a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Miles Sanders.
Ohio State responded with a three-play drive that ended with a 47-yard touchdown pass from Haskins to Binjimen Victor with 6:42 left in the game to cut the lead to 26-21.
A Penn State punt pinned OSU on its own 4-yard line with 4:35 left in the game, but the offense responded again with an 8-play, 96-yard drive that ended with a 24-yard touchdown pass from Haskins to K.J. Hill with 2:03 left in the game.
Penn State got the ball into Ohio State territory on its first play after that touchdown, but defensive end Chase Young made two big plays as the Buckeyes held on.
Young had a sack of McSorley to mute Penn State’s momentum. And then, in what was a very curious play call by Penn State, he dropped Sanders for a loss when he carried the ball on a fourth down and five yards to go play.
After that, all Ohio State had to do was take a knee and let the clock run out.
“That sideline was not giving up,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. He said Victor’s touchdown catch “changed everything.”
“He changed the whole dynamic of the game,” Meyer said. He called the 96-yard drive for the winning touchdown “one of the great drives in Ohio State history.”
“The first half was awful in a lot of ways. But give credit to our opponent. That’s a hell of a team we just played. Hats off to the defense. They kept us in the game as bad as the offense was in the first half.
“The coaches did a good job with the halftime adjustments. We’re an offensive line driven team and they controlled the game after we got going.”
Penn State coach James Franklin said, “It was a great first half but we weren’t able to finish late in the game. We didn’t make plays when we needed to make plays.”
After a slow start, Haskins completed 22 of 39 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns. J.K. Dobbins rushed for 57 yards on 17 carries. Parris Campbell caught 7 passes for 60 yards and K.J. Hill had 6 catches for 59 yards.
McSorley completed 16 of 32 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 175 yards on 25 carries.
An almost complete absence of offense was the defining characteristic of the first half for Ohio State until a Penn State turnover set up OSU’s only score in the first 30 minutes.
Ohio State’s first eight possessions ended with seven punts and an interception.
But a fumble by Sanders on the first play after the seventh punt set Ohio State up at the Nittany Lions’ 25-yard line with 2:32 left in the first half.
Two plays later Haskins dropped a screen pass into Dobbins’ hands and he sprinted 26 yards to the end zone for a touchdown that cut Penn State’s lead to 13-7.
Penn State had built a 13-0 lead on two field goals by Jake Pinegar and a 93-yard touchdown pass from McSorley to K.J. Hamler, who outran two Ohio State defensive backs to the end zone with 5:59 left in the first half.
The Buckeyes were fortunate that Penn State could put only 13 points on the scoreboard in the first half.
The Nittany Lions dominated the first half statistics. They outgained OSU 293 yards to 93 yards. Ohio State had only 31 yards rushing and Haskins was just 7 of 16 for 62 yards after completing 75 percent of his passes in his first four starts.
When Ohio State drove 75 yards on 13 plays on its first possession of the second half to go ahead 14-13 on a 4-yard touchdown run by Dobbins it appeared the Buckeyes might be about to take control of the game.
Penn State took the lead at 20-14 on a 2-yard touchdown pass from McSorley to tight end Pat Freiermuth with 12:22 left in the fourth quarter at the end of a 6-play, 73-yard drive.
The Nittany Lions made it 26-14 on Sanders’ 1-yard touchdown run. But then Ohio State’s offense responded with the right answers at the right time, something Penn State was unable to do.