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Penn State defense leads near-comeback against Ohio State with timely turnovers

The Nittany Lions scored 17 unanswered points in the third quarter, giving the Buckeyes their toughest test of the season.

Penn State linebacker Cam Brown hits Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields after Lamont Wade forced a fumble short of the goal line in the first quarter. Brown recovered the ball for a touchback.
Penn State linebacker Cam Brown hits Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields after Lamont Wade forced a fumble short of the goal line in the first quarter. Brown recovered the ball for a touchback.Read moreJay LaPrete / AP

COLUMBUS, Ohio –– Twice on Saturday, safety Lamont Wade felt an obligation.

The first came early in the third quarter of Penn State’s 28-17 loss to Ohio State.

The Buckeyes opened the second half with a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, to seize a commanding 21-0 lead.

The drive was capped off by a pretty, 24-yard pass by quarterback Justin Fields to wide receiver K.J. Hill on a fade route.

Wade was covering Hill on the play, and when he returned to the sideline, a flip was switched.

“After I got that touchdown scored on me, I kinda just blacked [out],” Wade said after the game. “I was misaligned and let them get that [touchdown]. I just told myself I gotta do something –– anything –– to impact the game. I felt like it was my obligation to do something because of what I just gave up.”

The next time Wade stepped onto the field –– after the Nittany Lions responded with their first touchdown of the game –– he made an instant impact.

Ohio State tailback J.K. Dobbins took the handoff on the first play of the drive and ran into a line of Penn State defenders. Linebacker Micah Parsons poked the ball out of Dobbins’ grasp, and the ball seemed to be loose on the turf for 30 seconds, but it was Wade who eventually came up with the ball on the Ohio State 12-yard line .

Two plays later, backup quarterback Will Levis carried the ball into the end zone, and the Nittany Lions were suddenly down by just a touchdown. The Penn State defense trotted back out onto the field, and once again Wade was there to make a play.

Wade hit Fields on the Ohio State 35 and forced another fumble, the Buckeyes’ third, which led to a Jake Pinegar field goal that quickly made it a 21-17 game.

The junior also forced a Fields fumble in the first quarter that saved a touchdown and gave Penn State the ball.

“That’s who we are. That’s who we’ve been for six years,” coach James Franklin said. “We’ll fight and we’ll battle.”

But 17 points was all the Nittany Lions would score. The Buckeyes added a fourth-quarter touchdown with an incredible catch by Chris Olave.

With the loss, Penn State’s hopes for a Big Ten championship and a spot the College Football Playoff died.

Sure, the Lions held Ohio State’s to its lowest yard and point totals of the season. But the 21-0 hole they found themselves in was too much to overcome, especially given the Buckeyes’ seven third-down conversions and two fourth-down conversions.

“I think we just let them hold the ball a little too long,” safety Garrett Taylor said. “We could’ve gotten off the field earlier. But knowing we can go out there against one of the nation’s top offenses –– if not the top offense –– and hold our own for four quarters is definitely positive.”

In the locker room after the game, Wade felt his second obligation.

He and defensive tackle Antonio Shelton, spoke in front of the entire team and were “excellent,” Franklin said.

Wade’s message to the team was simple.

“Of course this hurts, it’s a tough pill to swallow. But we fought our butts off,” Wade recounted. “The only thing that’s holding my tears back right now is how hard we fought. It hurts, but me being proud of those guys in the locker room has helped me out right now.”

Wade added: “I just feel like sometimes it’s my moral obligation to be there for people or lift people up. That’s what I try to do in life.”

Sometimes, pride is enough to help ease a loss for players like Wade. But for guys like defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, “A loss is a loss.”

Regardless, Penn State has a chance to close out the decade with another 10-win season by beating Rutgers at home next week.

“The season’s not over,” Taylor said.