Finally -- Branden Joe found the end zone! On the seventh play of a 35-yard drive that was set up by Maurice Hall's record-breaking 62-yard kickoff return, Joe found paydirt when his number was called on a first-and-goal play from the four. His touchdown pushed the Ohio State lead out to 21-7 right before halftime.
"It felt good. It's been five years since I've been in that end zone with all those touchdowns that I scored at Westerville South," Joe said. "I kind of didn't know what to do and I gave the ball to the ref. It felt good."
Because of injuries and other personal adversities that he's had to overcome during his career as a Buckeye, opportunities like the one against Penn State have been few and far between, to say the least.
"It was first down and goal from the four yard line, and it was kind of now or never in the back of my head and I was pretty determined to get it in," said Joe who rushed for 22 yards on nine carries in the game. "I'm a strong believer, and I have faith in my plan or whatever is going to happen, and I knew my time would come. I never grieved about never scoring a touchdown in my whole career since I've been here. So if I score one or if I score a hundred, it's all worthwhile."
Injuries in particular have seemingly followed Joe throughout his entire career at Ohio State. He was slowed by a shoulder injury in his first season when he made the successful transformation from tailback to fullback and was redshirted in 2000. The following year, he was mainly a special teams performer and one of the backups to Jamar Martin. Joe then started six games in his sophomore year and shared the fullback duties with Brandon Schnittker that season. He got his first carry of his career and the only one of the season on a one-yard gain against Cincinnati.
Last season was his most productive but injury-plagued at the same time. Joe tore his pectoral muscle in the summer while lifting weights and missed most of the first seven games. He finished his junior campaign with 27 carries for 99 yards, rushing for a career high of 28 yards against Michigan State before he topped that with 46 yards against Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl.
This year has seemingly been no different for Joe who was injured at the outset of training camp and is just now able to get any substantial playing time.
"I'm still pretty banged up right now, ankle-wise, but it's just kind of now or never in my senior season. I'm running out of games," Joe said. "I got one more game here in the ‘Shoe and I got no time to be hurt. As long as I got blood pumping in my heart, I got to be on the field and I got to make this senior season something to remember. I don't want to have any regrets when I'm done."
His resolve has always been firm and upbeat regardless of the adversity.
"If I sit back and feel sorry for myself, the world will pass me by. If it doesn't kill me, it's only going to make me stronger," Joe said. "I always go into things with a positive attitude with confidence and faith that I'm going to get through this and get things going in the right direction."
More than likely, however, Joe will not be completely healthy at any time during the remainder of the regular season.
"It's one of those injuries where it's never going to be 100 percent before any game right now because I just need flat time off to get the thing healthy," he said. "Kind of like Alex Stepanovich last year when he had the high ankle sprain and it nagged him the whole season. It's tough, so I just ice the heck out of it, do what I can do in practice and do what I can do on the field."
So in his mind it's full-go or no-go. He said he doesn't pay any attention to the ankle or favor it in any way during the game.
"We're running out of time, and I'm a senior and guys look up to me and depend on me, and I want to leave it all out there on the field," Joe said. "If I'm sitting here being hesitant, I'm not going to be as productive as other guys could be so I don't think about it at all."
He's simply playing out his role in life and in football and having faith in the outcome.
"I feel that our destination is predetermined. Everything we do has already been laid out for us, and we're just actors in this play, and I believe in that big time," Joe said. "So everything that comes my way I take it with a grain of salt. I keep my faith in the Lord, and I just wake up every day and move forward."
The stars were obviously aligned in Joe's favor and he was prepared to score that elusive touchdown when that particular play was called down near the goal line against the Nittany Lions.
"I go into every week ready to score touchdowns," he said. "I've been handling the ball enough this year and last year that I feel like they can call on me in goal line situations. I practice hard in practice so that they have confidence to put me in. And when it was first and four and I saw that big hole, I knew it was going to be a touchdown."
It was an important contribution to the outcome of the game as his TD plunge gave the Buckeyes a nice cushion going into the locker room at the intermission. Although the Buckeyes couldn't muster any more points in the second half, they scored more than enough in the first half to defeat Penn State again.
"Penn State-Ohio State is a classic, it's a gridiron classic. It's a big deal and I'm 4-1 against Penn State in my career here so it feels great," Joe said. "Coach Paterno is a great guy. I took a visit out there when I was being recruited and they got a classy program over there and we have tremendous respect for them."
The Buckeyes still need one more victory to become Bowl eligible with the next two games coming on the road before Joe and the other seniors play their final game at home against Michigan.
"It's huge and we're going to leave it on the field (against Michigan)," Joe said. "We're not going to look past anyone though. We've got Michigan State coming up this week. But it's going to be emotional for us seniors, it's emotional (against Michigan) every year. So we're just excited and looking forward to it and looking forward to ending this thing with a bang."