On the Lighter Side

Gary Housteau is back with his weekly column, On the Lighter Side. This week, he discusses his most recent road trip to one of the top college football road trip destinations in the country, Penn State.

I made the trek to State College for the third time last Saturday, and I got my first win.

In 1999, Ohio State was overmatched by LaVar Arrington and the second-ranked team in the country at the time, 23-10. In 2001, the Buckeyes let a big lead get away and lost 29-27 to the Nittany Lions. It was a record-setting win for Joe Paterno that day, as he surpassed the another legendary coach by the name Paul "Bear" Bryant in career victories. But the third time was the charm. Thanks to a second-half rally led by Scott McMullen, OSU barely squeaked by Penn State with a 21-20 victory.

I really enjoy going to the Penn State game in Happy Valley. It's my only regular stop on the Big Ten road circuit. From Youngstown, State College is almost equidistant from my drive to Columbus every game-day Saturday. The odometer read 176 miles when Steve Helwagen and I found our assigned parking spot at Beaver Stadium, and that's right around the same mileage I have to travel to get to my parking spot near the banks of the Olentangy.

Not a negative word was said as Steve and I navigated our way away from the stadium to the main drag in town, about a 20 minute walk, looking for a place to watch the first half of the Michigan-Michigan State game. Amidst a sea of blue and white, there I was in a bright red Ohio State shirt, and the only comment that was directed at Steve and I as we were walking against the grain was an "O-H!"

"That was Mike Tomczak," said Steve, making the positive ID on the former Buckeye. From the smile on his face, Tomczak, who never played against Penn State in his four years at Ohio State in the early ‘80s, clearly was ready for a Buckeye victory, hours before kickoff.

Steve and I were ready as well after we filled our bellies with some pretty good grub at a nearby watering hole and watched Michigan roll in the first half. Enough of that!

By the time we walked back to the car and got situated, it was time to go into the stadium, or "the erector set", as it was referred to by members of the Ohio State media. It's a nice stadium, but it's been added-on to many times over the years, hence the affectionate nickname. It might fit a few more people than the refurbished Horseshoe, but there's no comparison between the two edifices. OSU clearly has the better facility.

But they love their Nittany Lions, unconditionally. If you didn't know any better, you would have never guessed that Penn State was 2-6 (2-7 after the loss) the way the crowd was into the game. And they were with them until the very end when David Kimball missed a 60-yard field goal as time expired.

It took a total team effort in the win by the Buckeyes. While the defense played tough, for the most part, it was the often-maligned offense that was called upon to get the victory late in the game.

"We let them get some field goals and the early touchdown which kind of hurt us," said Dustin Fox, "but the offense really stepped up big when we needed them to."

Fox was the one victimized on the 2-yard TD pass to Sean McHugh.

"They pretty much had two guys coming out, and we were actually trying to combo it," he said. "It was tough because the (one) guy kind of picked me off when I was trying to get to the other guy."

Fox had a lot more on the line in this game then any of his other Buckeye mates. With the exception of the year 2000, the Fox family has been directly involved in this rivalry since ‘96.

"It's a big game for me," Fox said. "My brother (Derek) obviously played here four years, and I've been to many, many games here and many, many Ohio State-Penn State rivalries and it's a big rivalry for me and my family, but I'm happy that Ohio State won today."

Derek Fox played for Penn State through the ‘99 season, and Dustin was pretty close at one time to following his older brother to State College. In the OSU media guide, Derek is named by Dustin as the person whom he admires the most.

"It got me fired-up," Dustin said. "My brother was on the sidelines with Penn State there before the game, and he had neutral colors obviously, but it still fired-me up a little bit. So it was big for me personally."

Dustin said he talked to his big brother just prior to the game.

"I went up to him before the game and gave him a big hug," he said. "I think he was rooting for us, believe me."

As fate would have it, Fox came up with a big interception to help stop Penn State's momentum in the third period. The Nittany Lions, starting from their own 13, completed three third-and-very longs to move to OSU's 37. Fox was on the coverage for a couple of those long plays that allowed the drive to continue.

"It was real satisfying. It was great to get an opportunity to make a play," he said. "It seemed like, for whatever reason, I couldn't make a play up to that point, but I got that and got some momentum for myself and for my teammates, and (we) got some things going."

In all it was obviously a big win for the Buckeyes and for Fox in particular who, along with Nate Salley, led the Buckeyes in tackles in the game with nine, including one for a loss.

"It's just real special for me because I've been to so many games here, and it felt almost like a home game because I've been in the stands so many times here and watched so many games," Fox said. "It's different though but it's so much fun to come in here and spoil it for them and get a win for us."

With the victory in hand, it was an enjoyable ride back to Ohio for Steve and myself. I'm certain the Fox family had to be happy to see Dustin get a win at their home away from home and I'm sure that Tomczak and every other Buckeye fan at the game enjoyed their day immensely even though it took a couple of hours to get out of the parking lot!

Oh...if you happen to run into Tomczak at a game in the future, tell him that Steve and I said, "I-O!"

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