COLUMBUS — The “Immaculate Reception” is a somewhat irreverent tag placed on one of the most famous plays in NFL history.
As two other players collided pursing a pass, the ball was deflected, and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris grabbed it just before it struck the ground and took the ball in for a touchdown to win a playoff game.
Dane Sanzenbacher, trailing the play, swept the ball out of the air and stepped into the end zone for a 58-yard touchdown that finally afforded the Buckeyes some breathing room on their way to a 38-14 victory.
“At times, you just have to find a way to make something happen,” said Sanzenbacher, a senior captain for the Buckeyes.
Did Ohio State coach Jim Tressel see it as college football's Immaculate Reception?
“It was better than that,” Tressel said about the play that started a 21-point fourth-quarter outburst by the Buckeyes.
Sanzenbacher saw the opportunistic catch as just a fortunate event that came at a time when his team might have needed a boost.
“When I saw the ball go over my head, I just did kind of like an outfielder turn, trying to go get close in case something like that did happen, then I could try to make a play,” he said. “I can't take too much credit for it because it bounced right to me. I guess if you keep playing, sometimes you are just lucky.”
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After Sanzenbacher's touchdown pushed Ohio State's lead to 24-14, the Buckeyes quickly added a pass interception return for a score by Travis Howard and a short touchdown pass from Terrelle Pryor to tight end Jake Stoneburner to distort the final score.
The 35-point second half gave the Buckeyes their biggest come-from-behind win in the 10-year Tressel era and allowed Ohio State (9-1, 5-1) to keep pace in its pursuit of a sixth straight Big Ten championship. With two weeks left in the season, the Buckeyes, Wisconsin, and Michigan State all have just one conference loss.
“We knew this was a game we had to win, and even though the first half didn't go the way we wanted, we kept playing,” senior defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said. “We've got guys with a lot of heart, and we basically took it over as a team.”
Ohio State's opening possession of the afternoon was a quick six-play drive to the Penn State 9-yard line, highlighted by a 49-yard pass from Pryor to Posey, streaking down the OSU sideline. The Buckeyes settled for a 26-yard Devin Barclay field goal and a 3-0 lead about three and a half minutes into the game.
Penn State (6-4, 3-3) found its rhythm and put together back-to-back scoring drives that allowed the Nittany Lions to build a 14-3 lead by halftime. Quarterback Matt McGloin hit Justin Brown from 23 yards out for the first score with about four minutes left in the opening quarter, and then he drilled a scoring pass to Derek Moye from six yards out early in the second period.
After struggling to mount any consistent offensive movement in the first half, midway through the third quarter the Buckeyes closed to within 14-10 with a 96-yard drive that involved a cluster of big plays.
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Tailback Dan “Boom” Herron had a 19-yard run and an 11-yard pass reception, while Pryor had a 14-yard scamper and Brandon Saine broke one for 19 yards. The score came on a blast up the middle by Herron, who had a career-high 190 yards on 20 carries. His touchdown came from five yards out with 6:33 left in the third period.
Ohio State's defense, pushed around by Penn State in the first half, got a little payback just three plays after Herron's score when McGloin's pass to the outside was tipped, juggled, and then gathered in by OSU defensive back Devon Torrence, who returned it 34 yards for a touchdown.
That gave the Buckeyes a 17-14 lead with 4:29 left in the third quarter, but Ohio State missed a huge opportunity to stretch the advantage when Pryor threw an interception at the Penn State 2-yard line early in the final period.
After forcing a punt, Ohio State had a second-and-23 from its own 42 following a holding penalty, and Pryor lofted the deep pass intended for Posey. Sanzenbacher got the rebound and easily scored for a 24-14 edge.
“Plays like that are huge, and they happen when guys just won't quit,” Ohio State senior linebacker Brian Rolle said. “Everybody gets picked up when we see a big play go our way.”
The Buckeyes poured it on from there, adding a score on Howard's interception return and another on the Stoneburner pass reception.
Contact Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6510.