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Buckeye Butterflies: Ohio State Rallies to 39-38 Victory Over Penn State In Nail-biter

By: Michael Bohm
Down 15 in the fourth quarter, Penn State had overwhelmed the Silver Bullets for three quarters, with perhaps the most unstable unit of Ohio State taking the field: Special Teams. On a night where nothing had seemed to go Ohio State’s way, the punt return team sparked a sense of hope into the hearts of the Buckeye faithful. More than a blocked punt, a turning point. It would mark the beginning of arguably the most incredible comeback in college football this season. From there, the Buckeyes collectively fought back to claim the title of the Big Ten’s most wanted after scraping by for the one point victory, 39-38.

The very first play of Saturday’s matchup acted as an omen for Ohio State, an indication of the domination Penn State would inflict for the next three quarters. Heisman Frontrunner Saquon Barkley took the opening kickoff to the house to claim a 7-0 lead. 

The ensuing Ohio State possession lasted three plays, after wideout Parris Campbell fumbled a reception, and the Nittany Lions would take it to the Buckeyes’ 23. Campbell was injured on the play and would not return.

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley would find DaeSean Hamilton from 13 yards out to give the Lions a 14-point lead.

After the two teams traded punts, Ohio State would be halted in the red zone, but manage to put points on the board after Sean Nuernberger knocked one through the uprights. 

Down 14-3, and facing a fourth and eight, Buckeye head coach Urban Meyer elected to try for the first down, passing up on a field goal from Penn State’s 25. The attempt, a pass from quarterback JT Barrett to K.J. Hill, would be stopped short of the marker, subsequently giving the ball back to the Nittany Lions.

For the game’s duration, this decision would seem consequential, as Barkley would cap off an 81-yard drive with a highlight 36-yard run, extending the lead to 21-3.

With 9:32 remaining in there first half, the Bucks would attain their first trip passed the goal line, on a 14-yard dart over the middle from Barrett to Terry McLaurin.

Ohio State, now within 11, would not maintain this deficit for long. After a questionable pass interference call against Damon Arnette on third and long set the Lions up nicely, McSorley would carry the ball in himself from six yards out, effectively making the score 28-10. 

The 18-point differential would match the largest scoring margin of the game.

Similar to the prior drive by Penn State, Barrett and the Buckeyes would drive to the 10 of the Nittany Lions and, on third down, would be set up  inside the five thanks to a pass interference call against the defense. Mike Weber would finish things off with a two-yard surge into the end zone. 

The score at halftime, 28-17, would not last long.

At the start of the third quarter, on third and long from Penn State’s 19, Barrett’s pass to Hill would be bobbled and ruled incomplete on a near touchdown grab. But, the Buckeyes would have to settle for a field goal to pull within eight at 28-20.

However, the very next drive by the Lions would be capped off by a McSorley jump ball, initially ruled an interception, but after review, called a 37-yard scoring pass to DeAndre Thompkins to again pull ahead by two scores. 

A pair of punts would again give the Buckeyes the ball, but a mishandled handoff from Barrett to J.K. Dobbins near midfield would give Penn State another opportunity to add to their lead.

With the fourth quarter now underway, the Nittany Lions seemed to play a more conservative offense, and could not gain a single yard to capitalize on the turnover. What’s worse for Penn State, the immediate result was the blocked punt that shifted the momentum entirely in the Buckeyes’ favor.

Ohio State would, in response, execute a two-play drive that was topped off by a 38-yard reception by Johnnie Dixon from Barrett to narrow the deficit to 35-27.

Penn State marched to within seven yards of another touchdown, but for three consecutive plays, Buckeye defenders would hold their Big Ten competitors, resulting in a field goal, and a 38-27 score.

Dixon came up big for the Bucks once more, scoring from 10 yards out to finish a 76-yard drive and pull within five before a failed two-point conversion attempt. 

With just over four minutes remaining in regulation, the timid play calling of the Lions led to another three-and-out, and a chance for Barrett to gain the lead for the first time.

Beginning from his own 42, Barrett, calm, cool and collected, advanced his team across the field with patience, poise and precision. Lined up at Penn State’s 16, the three-year team captain found his tight end, Marcus Baugh, behind the secondary in the back of the end zone to capture the lead and the eventual victory.

All in all, the entire team stepped up, but Barrett’s leadership and execution were unmatched. A perfect 13 for 13 from the field with three scores, Barrett was as close to flawless during clutch time as could be. 

In total, the senior signal caller notched 328 yards through the air on 33/39, and 95 yards by ground with four total touchdowns, perhaps forcing his way back into the list of Heisman hopefuls.

Sitting now at 7-1 and undefeated in the Big Ten, Ohio State is in the driver’s seat for the conference title, with a tough task ahead. Iowa, a team that took Penn State to overtime, awaits the Scarlet and Gray.

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