After a Saturday night that had seen him make the biggest play of his career, Penn State safety Marcus Allen wore a blue hoody and a satisfied smile.
He also had a confession to make.
“I’m kind of claustrophobic,” he said.
Not on this night. On this night, he was a carrier, making things unbearably tight on the visiting sideline.
His blocked field goal with 4:27 left resulted in a go-ahead 60-yard touchdown return by Grant Haley, as the Nittany Lions upset No. 2 Ohio State in Beaver Stadium, 24-21.
And Allen minded not a bit when PSU’s fans, all clad in white, crowded around him and his teammates on the field afterward, even though he couldn’t find his girlfriend, couldn’t find his dad, couldn’t find any of the coaches from his high school in Maryland who were on hand.
There was only joy, only euphoria. Only the kind of emotions that nobody had felt around here in a long, long time.
“This is for everybody,” coach James Franklin said.
He talked about the game being “a big step in the right direction” as far as healing a community wounded by the Sandusky scandal. He talked, with tears in his eyes, about the death of his brother-in-law four days earlier.
Yet he didn’t wish to discuss whether it was the kind of signature victory he needed to propel the program back toward prominence (or, for that matter, ensure his job security).
“That’s for you (media) guys, all that signature stuff,” he said, adding that he “didn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the big picture.”
Rather, he said, “I just want to enjoy tonight.”
Understandable, since the Lions, 5-2 after their third straight victory, beat a ranked team for the first time since 2013 (No. 14 Wisconsin), beat a team ranked in the top five for the first time since 1999 (No. 4 Arizona) and earned a victory over their highest-ranked opponent since knocking off No. 1 Notre Dame in 1990.
PSU also snapped a 20-game road winning streak on the part of the Buckeyes (6-1). Seventeen of those victories had come in Big Ten play.
Few people saw it coming, though middle linebacker Jason Cabinda said that amid a sleepless Friday night at the team hotel, he and his roommate, fellow ‘backer Manny Bowen, allowed themselves to dream.
“We were just talking about how great it would be to pull this off,” he said, “and how we believed we could pull this off, and how it would be like writing history.”
It was already etched upon the pages of Brandon Bell’s mind.
“This was no fluke,” the senior linebacker said. “This is what we train for. This is what we go out there and play for. Obviously everybody is (saying) we shocked the world, but this is what you expect. Or what I expect.”
Bell, playing for the first time since the season’s second week because of a leg injury, had a career-high 19 tackles and one of his team’s six sacks. Cabinda, playing for the first time since the opener because of a hand injury, had 12 tackles and a sack of his own. Bowen added 11 stops, and defensive end Garrett Sickels, suspended for the first half for violating a team rule, had career highs of nine tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. http://www.scout.com/college/penn-state/story/1719381-psu-fans-now-get-s...
“Maybe,” Franklin said, “I should suspend him for the first half for the season.”
With Cabinda and Bell back, the Lions were more aggressive on defense than they had been, more varied. Yet the game seemed to be getting away from them when Ohio State built a 21-7 lead through three quarters.
J.T. Barrett, the Buckeyes’ splendid quarterback, had thrown for one touchdown, Curtis Samuel had busted off a 71-yard run for another and PSU’s repeated special-teams blunders (a blocked field goal, a fumbled punt and a bad snap on a punt) had left the Lions staring up at a team that had won its previous 78 games when leading by 14 points or more in the fourth quarter.
OSU had, however, been extended to overtime the previous weekend at Wisconsin, while PSU had a bye, two things that might very well have contributed to all that happened next. You had Lions QB Trace McSorley capping a brisk 90-yard drive with a scoring run early in the final period. And freshman linebacker Cam Brown blocking a punt (even though the block wasn’t on) to set up Tyler Davis’ field goal, cutting the gap to 21-17 with 9:33 left.
Then Allen soared to block Tyler Durbin’s 45-yard field goal attempt as well, the first time since 2007 the Lions had rejected two kicks in the same game. Haley collected the rebound and set sail down the left sideline.
Durbin and holder Cameron Johnston gave chase, and Johnston, the punter, closed the gap on Haley, one of the fastest guys on Penn State’s team.
“I told him, ‘If you would have gotten caught by the kicker I never would have let you live that down,’ ” McSorley said.
Never mind that — Haley admitted he would have never forgiven himself.
He managed to make it the distance, though, and after Ohio State’s final drive ended with a pair of sacks, PSU had the victory.
When the gun sounded several Lions sprinted toward the student section at the south end of the stadium and performed their own version of the Lambeau Leap. And as the fans stormed the field, two male spectators turned to each other high up in the west stands.
“We’re back in business,” one said to the other.
That seemed to be the feeling in the locker room, too.
“It’s just a game that put Penn State back on the map,” Haley said. “We needed that signature win, and we did it tonight.”
It left everyone feeling emotions they hadn’t felt in a long, long time.
But claustrophobia? Not so much.