COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The national championship game will be played Jan. 8 in Miami at 8 p.m. Thanks to Mark Rubin, Penn State has a terrific chance to be there.
Rubin made one of the most clutch plays in Nittany Lion history in the biggest game he and his teammates have ever played in. The senior safety forced a crucial fourth-quarter fumble to help PSU steal victory from what looked like it would be a crushing defeat.
"This team just played hard and believed," Rubin said of the 13-6 win over Ohio State, Penn State's first victory at the Horseshoe since 1978.
Penn State safety Mark Rubin forces a fumble against Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, a key play that turned the game in the Nittany Lions' favor in the fourth quarter. (Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski)
"No words can explain what just happened," PSU cornerback Lydell Sargeant said while celebrating walking off the field.
The No. 3 Lions trailed, 6-3, early in the fourth quarter and appeared to be reeling after Kevin Kelly missed a potential game-tying 45-yard field goal.
Penn State's offense, so good all season, had done virtually nothing all night. Like they have for decades, though, the Lions relied on their defense, and it came through.
The win put the Nittany Lions (9-0, 5-0) in command in the Big Ten and severely crimped the chances of the Buckeyes (7-2, 4-1) grabbing an unprecedented third consecutive outright league title and a piece of their fourth conference championship in a row. - Associated Press
Ohio State (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) faced third-and-1 at midfield with 11 minutes to play, and freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor tried to run right for the first down.
"We knew it was going to be a sneak or a dive, so we just blitzed," Rubin said. "[Pryor] happened to bounce outside. I just tried to squeeze tight and make a play."
Did he ever make a play.
Rubin went to wrap up Pryor, thrust his left hand forward and squirted the ball out of the quarterback's hands. Players from both teams attacked the ball, diving all over the field, before Penn State linebacker Navorro Bowman recovered at the Buckeye 38 with 10:38 to play.
"We knew this game was going to decide our season," Bowman said. "That forced fumble is something we needed."
"That has to be one of the crucial climax points of this season thus far," offensive lineman Gerald Cadogan said.
To everyone's surprise, backup quarterback Pat Devlin trotted onto the field after the fumble with the Penn State offense. Starter Daryll Clark got banged up and was being treated on the sideline for an apparent head injury, though he appeared to be quite animated wanting to get in the game.
Devlin, who lost the quarterback battle to Clark in the preseason, has waited patiently for his opportunity to arrive. He couldn't have envisioned, however, it would arrive in this scenario.
Devlin handed off to Evan Royster, who picked up 9 yards to the 29 on the first play. Devlin then threw to Derrick Williams, and Ohio State's Donald Washington was called for passing interference to move PSU to the 14.
Royster gained 2 yards, Stephfon Green 6 and Royster 4 more on third down to give the Lions first-and-goal at the 2.
Fullback Dan Lawlor picked up a yard before Devlin tried unsuccessfully to sneak in on second down. On third-and-goal from the 1, Devlin tucked the ball and plunged up the middle.
The officials waited a few seconds to sort things out, then finally signaled touchdown for a 10-6 Lion lead with 6:25 to go.
"There were definitely a lot of bodies on top of me in that end zone," Devlin said.
Penn State got the ball back with 4:31 to play and drove into field-goal range. Kelly booted a 35-yarder with 1:07 to go to make it 13-6.
Pryor and the Buckeyes had one more opportunity to try and pull even. They took over at their 20, and Pryor hit Ray Small on a couple of passes that moved them to the Penn State 43 with 45 seconds left.
Pryor spiked the ball on first down, then tried to heave one to the end zone on second down. Sargeant read the ball in the air, got himself in position and intercepted it in the end zone.
Penn State's offense ran out the clock to give the Lions their first victory in eight tries at Ohio State since joining the Big Ten.
"This win is unexplainable," Bowman said. "We've been working hard every single day to get to this point. ... We came out here and gave it our all. I'm just glad to be a part of this team."
Penn State (9-0, 5-0) is No. 3 in the BCS standings and will need either No. 1 Texas or No. 2 Alabama to lose in order to reach the national championship game.
Alabama has the tougher remaining schedule as it travels to LSU next week and still has to play in the SEC championship game. Texas has Texas Tech next week and the Big 12 championship game left.
"I'm happy for the kids," said Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who watched his fourth straight game from the press box. "They worked hard tonight against a good football team. ... They kept their poise, and that one turnover was the ballgame because nobody had good field position until that play."
Rubin, a fifth-year senior who began his career as a receiver, has had his share of criticism this season after getting burned a few times. He made up for it Saturday with a play that kept PSU's title hopes alive.
"I know that the coaches and all the players always believed in me," Rubin said.
"This was a good play," he added about the fumble. "It was a good game. But we still have a lot more goals to reach for the season."
Clark finished 12-of-20 for 121 yards, while Royster gained 77 yards on 19 carries.
Pryor won the individual matchup against Clark, completing 16-of-25 passes for 226 yards. The freshman phenom had two turnovers, though, that made the difference.
"I'm sure as he watches the film he'll look at some things he'll wish he had over," Buckeye coach Jim Tressel said.
The Lions held Beanie Wells to 55 yards on 22 carries.
Ohio State put together an impressive drive, taking over at its own 9 and running 13 plays, to grab a 6-3 edge with 3:19 left in the third quarter. Aaron Pettrey booted a 36-yard field goal for the Buckeyes' first lead.
The game was tied 3-3 at the half, thanks to one big play on each side.
Penn State had the ball at its own 32 late in the second quarter when Clark hit Graham Zug for a 49-yard gain down to the Buckeye 19. The Lions managed only 6 yards on three plays, then Kelly kicked a 31-yard field goal with 1:33 left in the half for a 3-0 lead.
Ohio State returned the ensuing kickoff to its 39 with 1:26 to go. Pryor made a big throw that helped the Buckeyes get into scoring position.
Aaron Maybin sacked Pryor for a 9-yard loss back to the Ohio State 41, but on the next play Pryor hit Brian Robiskie for a 33-yard gain to the PSU 26.
The Buckeyes spiked the ball with 18 seconds to go, then picked up 2 yards on a pass to Dane Sanzenbacher. Ohio State called timeout, and Pettrey kicked a 41-yard field goal on the final play of the half to tie it at 3-3.
"We came out here and proved today how good Penn State is," Cadogan said.