STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – This is not the way Penn State wanted to finish against Ohio State for the second consecutive year, watching a two-score lead in the fourth quarter slip through its fingers and losing by one point.
In front of a stunned "White Out" record crowd of 110,889, the ninth-ranked Nittany Lions blew a 26-14 lead in the game's final eight minutes Saturday night. Dwayne Haskins threw a pair of touchdown passes down the stretch, including a 24-yard pass to K.J. Hill with 2 minutes, 3 seconds remaining, to give the No. 4 Buckeyes a 27-26 victory.
The battle of Big Ten East powers at Beaver Stadium was expected to be a shootout between the top two scoring offenses in the nation, but the defenses controlled the game for three quarters. The offenses finally came around in the final 15 minutes, and it looked as if a heroic performance by Trace McSorley would be enough to get the Nittany Lions (4-1, 1-1) to the finish.
McSorley, who accounted for a school-record 461 of Penn State's 492 yards of total offense, threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Pat Freiermuth and used his running to set up a 1-yard score by Miles Sanders, making it a 12-point game with 8 minutes to play.
But the Buckeyes (5-0, 2-0) weren't done. Haskins, who threw for 208 of his 270 yards in the second half, connected with Binjimen Victor on a 47-yard TD pass just 1:18 after Sanders' score. Then he marched Ohio State 96 yards in eight plays for the eventual winning touchdown by Hill.
The Lions had one more chance, getting to the Ohio State 43 where they had a fourth-and-5. But McSorley handed off to Sanders over the right side, and Sanders was pushed back for a 2-yard loss. The Buckeyes ran out the clock, winning in similar fashion to a year ago in Columbus where they came back from a 35-20 deficit to win 39-38.
Three timeouts – two by Penn State, one by Ohio State – were called before the fourth-down play. Sanders said there was no change in the original call.
"That was the play from the jump," said Sanders, who rushed for a season-low 43 yards. "We saw them in an odd formation and we thought we could split it down the middle for five yards."
A frustrated James Franklin, who saw the Nittany Lions' 16-game home winning streak snapped, said that "obviously we should have called something different there" on fourth down, and pointed the finger at himself.
"This one hurts, obviously," the Penn State head coach said. "We didn't finish the game the way we should have finished the game. We played a great first half but weren't able to finish late in the game. Obviously you second-guess some things after a loss like that.
"The reality is that we had opportunities but we didn't make plays. We didn't tackle well in open space. We dropped some balls. We didn't make plays."
McSorley was outstanding once again in a big game. He rushed 25 times for 175 yards, and completed 16 of 32 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns. His first TD pass of the game, a 93-yard play to redshirt freshman K.J. Hamler in the second quarter, was the second-longest play from scrimmage in program history.
But the Buckeyes were relentless at clutch time. They rolled up 173 of their 389 yards of total offense in the fourth quarter. On their decisive 96-yard drive, Haskins and J.K. Dobbins connected on a screen pass for 35 yards, and Mike Weber converted a third down with an 11-yard run.
"We need to be better in tackling, need to be more aggressive" said safety Garrett Taylor, whose interception was Penn State's only takeaway in the game. "We can point to a bunch of things here and there but at the end of the day, what it comes down to is they outplayed us and we didn't step up when the game was on the line."
Trailing 13-0 after the McSorley-to-Hamler TD, the Buckeyes capitalized on a Sanders fumble to cut into the deficit on Dwayne Haskins' 26-yard pass to Dobbins with 1:50 left in the first half.
Ohio State, which gained just 93 total yards in the first half, took the second-half kickoff and had its longest sustained drive of the game – 75 yards. Dobbins went over from 4 yards out on the 13th play to give the Buckeyes their first lead at 14-13.
The Nittany Lions outgained the Buckeyes, 293-93, in total offense in the first half. In fact, the Lions picked up 93 of their yards on one play – a short pass from McSorley to Hamler over the middle that Hamler took to the house for the second-longest pass play in program history.
Still, Penn State managed just a 13-7 lead because Ohio State converted the Nittany Lions' only turnover, a fumble by Sanders at the 25, into a touchdown on a 26-yard screen pass from Haskins to Dobbins.
The Nittany Lions advanced into Ohio State territory on their first three possessions of the game but had only three points to show for it.
Penn State kept its first drive alive when Sanders made 2 yards on a fourth-and-2 from the Buckeyes 42 but could not get past the 38 and had to punt.
The Nittany Lions got the ball back at their own 21 and Juwan Johnson made an incredible leaping one-handed catch for a 31-yard game that gave them a first down at the Ohio State 17. But an ill-advised lateral from McSorley to Tommy Stevens was fumbled and went for a 13-yard loss, and Penn State had to settle for a 34-yard field goal from Pinegar.
McSorley sparked the Lions' next drive with a career-best 51-yard run to the Ohio State 29 but gained one more yard the next three plays, and Pinegar was wide left on a 46-yard field goal try.
The Penn State defense kept the visitors in check. The Buckeyes gained just 27 yards in the first quarter.
An interception and 45-yard return by safety Garrett Taylor early in the second quarter put the Lions in business at the Ohio State 28, but again the Buckeyes defense did not allow its opponent to net a first down, and Pinegar split the uprights with a 39-yard field goal.
>> PHOTO GALLERY: Ohio State 27, Penn State 26
Later in the quarter, Buckeyes punter Drue Chrisman, who averaged 47.7 yards on seven first-half punts, boomed a 52-yarder that was downed at the Penn State 2. Faced with a third-and-5 from the 7, McSorley fired a pass over the middle to Hamler, who turned on the jets and outraced defensive backs Shaun Wade and Isaiah Pryor to the end zone.