Pennsylvania Roars Back in Big 33

After a slow start, the Keystone State outfit explodes in the second half to rally past Ohio stars in a classic showdown. The 61-42 final mark the most points scored by a winning team and the most total points ever scored in the game.

Pennsylvania coach Mark Schmidt spent much of the week leading up to the 49th Big 33 Football Classic trying to convince his squad not to listen to talk that Ohio sent its "C" team to the event Saturday, since much of the Buckeye State's best talent was playing in the Ohio North-South game the same day.

Mission accomplished. Pennsylvania started slow, but rode a dominant second half performance to a 61-42 victory over Ohio, breaking a three-game losing streak in what could be the final game of the series between the teams (the conflict with the North-South Game could cause Pennsylvania to look for another opponent).

Pennsylvania set a Big 33 record for most points scored by one team and the teams combined for the most total points in a Big 33 game.

"We went up strong in the first half and then we started the second half and we had four or five turnovers and it killed us," Ohio coach Paul Farrah said.

Pennsylvania coach Mark Schmidt summed it up more succinctly. "In the beginning we decided to stay in the locker room, and in the second half we decided to play a little football.”

As the game began, all eyes were on quarterback Pat Devlin, the Pennsylvania Offensive Player of the Year, the state's all-time passing yards leader and a Penn State signee. After two series, Lion fans probably wanted to cover their eyes as two poorly thrown Devlin passes resulted in Ohio interceptions.

The first came on Devlin's first pass of the night and was returned 25 yards by Kyle Endicott to set Ohio up at the Pennsylvania 22. It took just one play for Ohio to capitalize as Syracuse-bound running back Delone Carter raced around the right side and burst through the secondary into the end zone to give Ohio a 7-0 lead.

Devlin was intercepted again on Pennsylvania's second offensive series, this time on a long pass downfield intended for tight end Nate Byham that was caught over the shoulder by Ohio's Brad Brookbank. The Pennsylvania defense, led by pressure up front from future Penn Staters Jared Odrick and Tom McEowen, stiffened and forced a punt.

Looking for an offensive spark, Pennsylvania head coach Mark Schmidt removed Devlin in favor of Michigan State-bound Connor Dixon, but he was promptly greeted with two consecutive sacks by Thaddeus Gibson, one of the most highly touted prospects in this year's game and a future Ohio State player. Gibson capitalized on a poor shotgun snap on the next play, pouncing on a fumble to give Ohio the ball back at the Pennsylvania 15-yard line.

Three running plays produced seven yards, and Ohio was forced to settle for a 25-yard field goal by David Brewer to extend its lead to 10-0 with just over four minutes left in the first quarter.

Devlin returned to quarterback for Pennsylvania as the first quarter wound to a close. He showed good foot speed on a 6-yard scramble, but could not connect on a third-down pass over the middle, and Pennsylvania was once again forced to give the ball up. The Pennsylvania team no doubt wanted to forget that the first quarter ever happened. In five offensive possessions, Pennsylvania ran 13 plays that resulted in three turnovers and minus-10 total yards.

The first play of the second quarter brought more misery for the home team as Clem Johnson was stopped short of the first down on a fake punt attempt, giving Ohio the ball on the Pennsylvania 40-yard line. The Pennsylvania defense once again hung tough, grudgingly surrendering six yards on three consecutive quarterback keepers. Brewer missed a 50-yard field goal to end the threat.

Pennsylvania needed a big play to get back in the game, and Devlin provided it on the next series, hitting future Pitt player Aaron Berry in stride for an 81-yard touchdown pass to cut the Ohio lead to 10-7 with 8:38 remaining in the first half.

Unfazed, Ohio went to work on offense, mixing the running of Carter with a short passing game to move the ball across midfield. Then, Mike Scherpenberg withstood a fierce pass rush to deliver a 39-yard touchdown pass to Iowa recruit Derell Johnson, who played both quarterback and wide receiver in the game, giving Ohio a 10-point lead once more with six minutes to play in the half.

Connor Dixon worked the next series under center for Pennsylvania and kept the offense moving. First he found Anthony Parker-Boyd for an 18-yard gain to the Ohio 38. Then he hit Williams, who will play his college football at Michigan State, on a slant for a touchdown to make it a 17-14 game with 3:51 left in the first half.

The offensive fireworks continued on the ensuing series as Johnson took a quarterback keeper 43 yards to the Pennsylvania 38. Then he found Louisville-bound Troy Pascley on a jump ball down the left sideline on fourth and nine to give Ohio a first and goal from the eight. Consecutive penalties moved the ball back to the 18, and Ohio eventually had to settle for a 35-yard field goal by Brewer to take a 20-14 lead into the locker room.

Johnson led all rushers in the first half with 54 yards on eight carries. Devlin led all quarterbacks with 85 yards passing and a touchdown, but the two early interceptions were costly.

Ohio caught a lucky break on the first series of the second half when Johnson was stripped of the football by Elijah Fields, but the ball bounced off the Hersheypark Stadium field turf into the arms of an Ohio player. That good fortune was quickly followed by an electrifying 42-yard touchdown run by Johnson and a two-point conversion to give Ohio a 28-14 lead.

Instead of becoming discouraged, Pennsylvania struck twice within 20 seconds to get right back into the game. First, it answered Ohio's long touchdown run by a quarterback with one of its own as Dixon found daylight around the right side and raced 56 yards to the end zone to cut the Ohio lead to 28-21 with 6:50 remaining in the third quarter.

Then, the Pennsylvania defense forced a turnover as Pitt products Fields and Greg Webster combined to force and recover a fumble at the Ohio 25. On the next play, Devlin pump faked and dropped a perfect pass into the arms of Williams in the end zone to bring Pennsylvania within a point. Collin Wagner missed the extra point, leaving his team behind 28-27.

The tidal wave of momentum for Pennsylvania continued on the following series as Fields collected his second turnover of the quarter, intercepting Scherpenberg and setting Pennsylvania up at the Ohio 32-yard line. Then, Schmidt turned to trickery to give his team their first lead.

Running back Da'Rel Scott, a Maryland recruit, ran to his right, then stopped and fired a strike down the sideline to Williams for another Pennsylvania touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but Pennsylvania moved in front 33-28 with 4:21 left in the third quarter.

Two delay of game penalties and a personal foul on the next series forced Ohio into a third and 26 that Pennsylvania turned into a third consecutive turnover as Clem Johnson intercepted Johnson near midfield. The offense quickly moved into scoring position, thanks in part to a 15-yard penalty against Gibson for taking his helmet off on the field of play.

Devlin continued to atone for his poor early play by scrambling for a 13-yard touchdown to give Pennsylvania a 40-28 advantage as the third quarter came to a close. The Keystone Staters exploded for 26 third quarter points and appeared to have the game in hand, but Ohio wasn't going down without a fight.

Christian Haywood ripped off a 39-yard run to begin the fourth quarter, and Carter followed with a 16-yard scamper up the right sideline to put the ball at the Pennsylvania 19. Ohio could only muster four yards on the next three plays, however, and then Brewer missed a 32-yard field goal attempt to give the ball, and momentum, back to Pennsylvania.

Dixon put the game out of reach on the ensuing series by hitting Scott for a 67-yard touchdown to give Pennsylvania a commanding 47-28 advantage with 7:45 left in regulation. Scott tacked on a 5-yard rushing touchdown late to make it 54-28, but Carter tried to make it interesting again by racing 78 yards for a touchdown with 4:08 remaining to cut the Pennsylvania lead to 54-34.

Due to a Big 33 rule that allows a team that is down by more than nine points in the fourth quarter to get the ball back after a score, Ohio had another chance to get closer. But the extra possession resulted in a Pennsylvania defensive touchdown as Fields intercepted another Johnson pass and took it 58 yards to pay dirt. Ohio's Drew Kuhn capped the scoring with a 31-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion run.

Williams was named the Pennsylvania MVP for catching three passes for 95 yards and three touchdowns. He also returned two kickoffs for a total of 45 yards. Johnson was voted the Ohio MVP. He rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries and threw for 118 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

Dixon led Pennsylvania in rushing with 44 yards and a touchdown and passing with 136 yards and two touchdowns. Devlin threw for 119 yards and two touchdowns and added a rushing touchdown.

Despite a lackluster first half, Pennsylvania rose to the occasion in the second half and put a scrappy Ohio team away. If this was the end of the Pennsylvania-Ohio Big 33 series, it ended on a high note for the home team and gave Pennsylvania a 10-9 lead in the all-time series.




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