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Counting Down the Most Memorable PSU-OSU Games: 2008

In order to be excited about what is to come in the future, it is important to understand and appreciate the past. This coming Saturday marks the most anticipated contest to date in a new era of Penn State Football as the Nittany Lions take on the undefeated No. 9 Ohio State Buckeyes. But big games against Ohio State are nothing new.

This is the fourth installment of a five-part series that will take a look back at the most memorable Penn State-Ohio State games since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten in 1993. Hopefully this serves as both an informative and entertaining way to get you pumped up for Saturday’s matchup. Each day, we will provide a short recap of the selected game, and brief interviews with a few fans who were in attendance. 

Today, we are looking back at the 2008 matchup. Since this will be the only road game featured, the format is a bit different. We are talking to Ben Lerman (@blerms) who was in Columbus for the game and Evan Smith (@SportsNTheatre) who watched the action on television from campus.

This game, played on October 25, 2008 was a classic defensive battle between Joe Paterno’s third ranked Nittany Lions and Jim Tressel’s tenth ranked Buckeyes. The Nittany Lions entered with a perfect 8-0 record, but that was in some serious doubt as they had not escaped Columbus with a victory since 1978. While the Buckeyes had lost an early game to the University of Southern California, they still carried a perfect conference record into the night.

Teams traded punts early with the game scoreless after fifteen minutes of play. Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor completed a long pass to receiver Dane Sanzenbacher midway through the second quarter to put the home team in Nittany Lions territory, but the defense clamped down and forced another punt. On the ensuing drive, Nittany Lions quarterback Daryll Clark found receiver Graham Zug to set the Blue and White up in the red zone. Kicker Kevin Kelly knocked a 31 yard field goal through the uprights to put the visitors on the board first late in the second quarter.

Buckeyes kicker Aaron Pettrey responded with a 41 yard field goal as the teams headed into halftime, tied at 3. Pettrey added his second field goal of the night, this one from 36 yards out with three minutes remaining in the third quarter. Clark and running back Evan Royster were able to move the offense, but Kelly missed a 45-yard field goal wide right early in the final quarter.

The Buckeyes were controlling the clock, and it appeared that they would be able to kill substantial time and possibly score again to extend their 6-3 lead before the Nittany Lions offense saw the field.

Everything changed with 10:50 remaining in the game.

Facing third and inches just past midfield, Pryor saw an opening in the defense and attempted to bounce outside for a big gain rather than just gaining one or two yards for the first down. The true freshman quarterback left the ball unprotected in his right hand as he moved to the right. Safety Mark Rubin punched it loose, leading to a wild scramble. At first, it looked like Buckeyes running back Beanie Wells would recover the fumble before linebacker Tyrel Sales knocked it even further back to keep it away from Wells. Linebacker NaVorro Bowman pounced on it at the Buckeyes 38-yard line.

With Clark dealing with a head injury, backup Pat Devlin came in under center. A combination of a pass interference call and several Royster runs got the drive going, and with just under seven minutes remaining, Devlin found the end zone on a quarterback sneak from a yard out. The defense held on the next drive, and Kelly hit a 35 yard field goal with one minute remaining to extend the lead to 13-6.

The Buckeyes quickly moved the ball past midfield when Pryor decided to go for it all with 34 seconds remaining. He rolled to his right, stepped up, and fired a long pass to the end zone in the direction of receiver Brian Hartline. Cornerback Lydell Sargeant was in perfect position to intercept the underthrown ball.

It was over. The Nittany Lions had won in Columbus for the first time in 30 years.

During the week leading up to that game, there was more anxiousness and nervousness on campus than confidence. That was understandable given the track record and past history at Ohio Stadium.

Evan Smith was a Penn State junior at the time, watching the game in the North Halls common room with some friends. He was always very involved with Nittany Nation, and has fond memories of storming the court after a few big home basketball  wins. “I didn’t know what to do. I was so shocked, and I immediately started wondering if any of our fans in Columbus would try to rush the field.” said Smith.

A celebration of its own had started on campus and downtown. Several freshman convened outside East Halls singing songs and doing Penn State cheers. The bigger gathering or as Smith referred to as the “varsity party” was downtown at Beaver Canyon. “The spontaneity of it was great. It was all so special and unique,” recalled Smith.

While remembering the game, Smith was able to both rewind a few more years and fast forward to Saturday’s impending showdown. “2005 and 2008 were kinda similar images in different locations, and here comes another measuring stick game against Ohio State,” said Smith.

Smith’s best memory of the victory can best be expressed by an image.

“Seeing Pryor crying on the sidelines like that was just awesome. I don’t really hate him anymore, but he was public enemy number one at the time,” said Smith.

Ben Lerman was also a junior at the time and began camping out for tickets a week before the game. He was not planning on going with any great friends but just wanted to be there. “I got a call from someone who knew I was interested. Tickets were not supposed to go on sale until Monday, but they had so many people waiting that they did it Sunday around 1:30 p.m.” said Lerman.

That would mark the final time students were permitted to camp out for away game tickets, and it was certainly a memorable last time for those who did. An S-Zone was organized, and Penn State fans tried to bring in as many shirts as they could manage to distribute to other fans of the away team.

Despite the Nittany Lions scoring first and being tied at halftime, people were still not too confident. That confidence level dropped further when the Buckeyes carried the three point lead into the fourth quarter. “I didn’t give up hope, but I didn’t think we were going to win,” said Lerman.

When Lydell Sargeant came down with the interception, he could hardly speak. “I was in shock. I remember jumping around screaming ‘We did it. We did it’ but other than that, I couldn’t really form words.

Most Buckeyes fans quickly exited the stadium in disappointment, while those who made the trip from State College moved from the top of the stadium to the lower bowl to continue the celebration.

“We had a little fun heckling the College GameDay crew a bit because all of their guys picked Ohio State that morning,” said Lerman.

Everything that the junior did to get to Columbus including driving himself was completely worth it.

Lerman made the trip to a few other away games during his time as a student, but that one definitely topped the list. “My second most memorable road game experience was Alabama in 2010 despite the loss, but this was easily my favorite.”

Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of the series is available here. Check back tomorrow morning for the fifth and final installment.

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About the Author

Drew Balis

Drew is a senior marketing major. This fall, he will be covering Penn State Football for Onward State. He is a huge Philadelphia sports fan and loves THON and Domonic Brown.

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