Victory takes its place in PSU history
STATE COLLEGE — This is why we all love sports.
Because you just never quite know when you might witness something amazingly unexpected.
Like Saturday night.
Trailing Ohio State 21-7 with 14 minutes left and showing no signs of being able to spring a monumental upset, Penn State — unranked and a three-touchdown underdog — staged maybe the most incredible second-half rally in its history and decked the No. 2 ranked Buckeyes, 24-21, touching off a celebration on the Beaver Stadium turf that rarely, if ever, has been seen.
When the victory was assured, students and fans poured out of the stands, creating a sea of white that covered the entire field, and joined in the singing of the alma mater.
It was obviously the best win of James Franklin’s tenure and surely will take its place on a very short list of the greatest in school history.
Miami and Georgia will always stand alone. So will 48-14 at No. 1 Pitt.
From there, there will be debates — Kansas in 1969, winning at No. 1 Notre Dame on Craig Fayak’s field goal in 1990, beating No. 2 Nebraska in 1982 to set the stage for the first national title — but stunning Ohio State on Saturday night, before a whiteout crowd of 107,280 now has to be included.
On that, there can be no debate.
Although this game was shaping up as a much more competitive battle than the Lions staged at Michigan in a 49-10 loss a month ago, for long stretches, Penn State did not seem to be a threat to win.
But as they appeared headed for some moral victory/back-patting and admiration for a game effort — especially their tenacious defense, which has vastly improved over the last 10 quarters — the Nittany Lions showed they have bigger plans and bigger dreams.
And, finally, they have a signature victory on which to hang their blue and white tossle caps.
Their quick-strike offense, throttled much of the night, bunched a few chunk plays together, and their special teams, which struggled mightily in helping Ohio State gain an early two-score advantage, turned in one of the biggest plays in program history.
Marcus Allen’s blocked field goal that speedy Grant Haley turned into a 60-yard touchdown and a 24-21 lead with 4:27 left is already etched in Nittany Lion lore.
Put it somewhere below the Blackledge to Garrity Sugar Bowl bomb and Pete Giftopoulos cradling Vinny Testaverde’s fifth interception in the Tempe desert, but by all means, put it on the list.
Especially when considering all the suffering and all the transition Penn State and its fan base have endured in the last five years — a backdrop that in some ways will never fully go away — Saturday night was like a giant reward and a giant exhale.
A drained Franklin alluded to how football can bring a community together, and it sure looked like all hands were on the same deck here.
The fact that it came against one of the nation’s most successful programs — a favorite until now to play for the national championship — and against a top coach in Urban Meyer made it all the more sweet.
This win, indeed, changes everything.
It means this young team has not only a bright future but a bright present.
It puts Penn State on track for a New Year’s Bowl and potentially a 10-2 regular season.
It establishes a much firmer foundation under Franklin and a real — not a grudging — belief in him.
It underscores Franklin made the right hire in offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and that he’s got a rising star on his hands in defensive coordinator Brent Pry.
It shows the Lions can move toward becoming a legitimate threat in the coming years to Ohio State and Michigan.
And it proves that the Nittany Lions, and this regime, can build a program to a level where it once existed and where so many are eager to return.
After five long years and really going all the way back to the best days of the 1980s and 1994, Penn State finally took that giant step.
Rudel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.