UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For Penn State, the day was supposed to be about a return to normalcy, a return to football — where the Nittany Lions have always been able to find solace.
It was supposed to be a celebration for Penn State and its beleaguered football program.
Instead, Tyler Tettleton and the Bobcats crashed the party.
Guided by the terrific Tettleton, Ohio upset and dominated the Nittany Lions 24-14 Saturday afternoon in front of 97,186 inside Beaver Stadium.
Tettleton hit on 31 of 41 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns, and added 47 rushing yards for another score, as Ohio (1-0) posted the biggest win of the Frank Solich era — and perhaps in Bobcats’ history.
“This is truly one of the most exciting moments in Ohio Football history,” said Ohio President Roderick McDavis, who was high-fiving players on the field and then gave one his patented locker room speeches afterward. “To come into this stadium, on this day, and win just speaks volumes about how far we’ve come.”
Penn State (0-1), and its fervent fan base were desperate for something to cheer about after an off-season marred with scandal, the death of the iconic Joe Paterno, and draconian NCAA sanctions.
And for a while the Lions roared. Head coach Bill O’Brien’s pass-heavy offense racked up yards early, and PSU took a 14-3 lead into halftime after a blocked punt set up Matt McGloin’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Matt Lehman.
But the Bobcats were just getting warmed up. Ohio dominated play after the first quarter; after the emotional lift left the Lions so did their advantage. PSU out gained Ohio 173 yards to 52 in the first quarter. After that, the Bobcats racked up 447 total yards to the Lions’ 189 over the final three quarters.
“We played with heart and intensity, and just put it all on the line,” said Ohio wide receiver Donte Foster, whose 5-yard touchdown catch from Tettleton put the game out of reach with 2:55 remaining. “After we made some adjustments, we came back and started to put the licking on them.”
The win snapped a seven-game losing streak for Ohio against Bowl Championship Series (BCS) teams, and gave the ‘Cats their first win over such a program since 2006. Ohio had never before beaten Penn State, and the Lions dropped their season opener for the first time since 2001.
“This is an awesome feeling. We’ve been building this thing year by year, a little bit at a time. You want to keep moving things forward,” Ohio tight end Jordan Thompson said. “We definitely did that today.”
Down 14-3 at the break, Ohio caught a break to get back into it. Tettleton forced a throw in the early third quarter, back to the middle of the field, and it was deflected. Ohio flanker Landon Smith snagged the carom, then wove his way to the end zone to cap the 43-yard scoring play that cut the deficit to 14-10.
Penn State, sensing the game was slipping away, went for it on fourth down from the Ohio 30-yard line on the next series. But McGloin’s throw was off the mark, and the Bobcats responded by quickly grabbing the lead.
On the ensuing drive, Tettleton dropped in a perfect ball down the right sideline to Ryan Clark for a 33-yard pickup on third-and-two. Four plays later, Tettleton dove in from the one and the Bobcats had a 17-14 lead.
“He was a part of a lot of big plays. He kept a lot of drives going,” Solich said of his quarterback.
And as the game went on so too did running back Beau Blankenship and Ohio’s offensive line. The Bobcats’ next drive ended with a missed Matt Weller field goal attempt, but Ohio still led 17-14 when it got the ball back on its own 7 with 9:37 remaining.
Ohio methodically worked the ball down the field and capped the 93-yard, 14-play series when Tettleton fired the 5-yard TD toss to Foster in the end zone.
At that point, most of the Penn State faithful headed for the exits.
“In our minds, I don’t think it was,” Blankenship said when asked if he thought the game was an upset. “We go into every game thinking we’re going to win.
“We always go in with that chip on our shoulder wanting to get the victory and thinking we can.”
Blankenship finished with 109 yards on 31 carries, and added seven receptions for 72 yards. Foster finished with five catches for 32 yards.
McGloin finished 27 of 48 with a late interception and 260 yards for Penn State. The Lions rushed for just 92 yards, and had three turnovers to none for the Bobcats.
“They were the better team today,” O’Brien said.
It didn’t start that way.
Ohio spent the first half trying to come to grips with PSU’s new offense, which included 26 throws in the first two quarters. Playing soft on the corners, the Bobcats saw McGloin hit on 16 of 26 in the first half for 178 yards and two touchdowns.
The Lions threw it seven times alone on its first drive, which included a fourth-down conversion at midfield. But Ohio stopped the possession with Keith Moore’s fumble recovery on the Ohio 21-yard line.
The Lions kept slinging it, and broke a scoreless tie with 3.1 seconds left in the first quarter. On first down, McGloin slid away from some pressure and dumped it off to Bill Belton. Belton plowed over the front right pylon for a 6-yard touchdown reception and the Lions led 7-0.
Ohio had an early drive stall at the PSU 36, and elected to punt. The Bobcats next series resulted in another punt, but Alphonso Lewis recovered the fumble punt catch by PSU linebacker Gerald Hodges on the PSU 13-yard line. Four plays later, kicker Matt Weller put Ohio on the board with a 22-yard field goal.
Weller, however, missed 44-yard attempt later in the second quarter, and another special teams mistake really put the Bobcats up against it. With time running down in the first half, Ohio punter Grant Venham had his punt blocked by Nyeem Wartman. Three plays later, after starting at the Ohio 18, McGloin hit Matt Lehman for a 14-yard touchdown pass and the Lions took a 14-3 lead into the halftime break.
But the Bobcats kept battling. Eventually the scoreboard showed what they believed at the onset; Ohio was the better team.
“It’s amazing to come in here with a Big Ten, BCS opponent like them. It’s fairly surreal,” Tettleton said. “It hasn’t really hit yet that we did that.”
Ohio will take the field for its home opener on Saturday, when New Mexico State comes to Peden Stadium for a 7 p.m. kickoff.