STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - While a crowd of 107,280 spectators screamed themselves hoarse, Penn State made big play after big play in the fourth quarter Saturday night against undefeated Ohio State and ended the game celebrating in a sea of white on the green grass of Beaver Stadium.

Safety Marcus Allen teamed with cornerback Grant Haley to pull off the biggest play of all. Allen blocked Tyler Durbin's 45-yard field-goal attempt. Haley scooped up the ball and raced 60 yards for a touchdown with 4 minutes, 27 seconds remaining, and the Nittany Lions defense held off the second-ranked Buckeyes for a 24-21 victory in the annual "whiteout" game.

The victory improved Penn State's record to 5-2 (3-1 in the Big Ten) and gave head coach James Franklin his first win over a ranked team in his three seasons on the sidelines at State College. It also broke a 20-game road winning streak compiled by the Buckeyes (6-1, 3-1) since Urban Meyer took over as head coach in 2012.

More importantly, the win brought up the real possibility that the Nittany Lions could return to the top 25 in the polls for the first time since the NCAA sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky scandal were imposed in 2012.

"I know this means a great deal to the program, the alumni, and the past and current Penn Staters," Haley said. "It's something that people dream about, playing in a whiteout and playing against the No. 2 team in the country. It's a game that put Penn State back on the map. We needed that signature win, and we did it tonight."

With his daughter, Shola, at his side after the game, an emotional Franklin said: "This is for everybody.

"This community has been through so much in the last five years, and this is a big step in the right direction in terms of healing," he said. "I said this very early on, that for us to get where we want to be, we need this entire community together. A win like tonight . . . I know I'm biased, but I believe that football has the ability to bring a community together like nothing else. So I want to thank everybody."

Franklin wouldn't call it a signature win, telling reporters: "That's for you guys."

Tapping his wrist on the table, he said: "I understand the significance of beating the No. 2 team in the country, a team that hasn't lost an away game in 20 games, a good football program, a great university. I get all that. I just want to enjoy tonight. I want to enjoy it until tomorrow afternoon after we break the film down because after that we've got to move on to the next game."

It didn't look good for the Lions after three quarters. Ohio State extended a 12-7 halftime lead to 21-7 on Curtis Samuel's 74-yard touchdown run and a safety that resulted from a high snap that sailed over the head of Penn State punter Blake Gillikin, who fell on the ball in the end zone.

But the Lions offense, limited to minus-7 total yards in the third quarter, broke out of the gate for a 90-yard touchdown drive in the first two minutes of the fourth. Back-to-back gains of 37 yards by Saquon Barkley and 35 yards on a Trace McSorley-to-Saeed Blacknall connection set up McSorley's 2-yard run that made it 21-14.

The Buckeyes ran three plays and punted, but freshman linebacker Cameron Brown burst through and blocked Cam Johnston's kick. That put the Lions in business at the Ohio State 28, and Tyler Davis kicked a 34-yard field goal.

"Did we have a punt block on? No," Franklin said with a smile. "Cam just went through there. That's what happens when you recruit good kids from good families that also have a lot of ability. It also helped that he's 6-5."

From his own 13, quarterback J.T. Barrett then drove Ohio State methodically down the field on a time-killing drive that was highlighted by his 34-yard pass to Noah Brown. The Buckeyes moved the ball to the Penn State 28 but on fourth down, they appeared indecisive and the field-goal team rushed on the field late.

Ohio State snapped quickly for Durbin's 45-yard attempt, but Allen broke through for the block. Haley scooped up the ball on a dead run and raced 60 yards for the touchdown that gave the Lions their first lead of the night.

"Marcus did a great job and got in there and blocked the kick," Haley said. "I just saw the ball. The first thing was to scoop it and run and don't get tackled. It was an unbelievable effort for the whole defense on that play."

And the defense preserved the lead with a final stand. After the Buckeyes got to their own 42, linebacker Jason Cabinda, playing for the first time since Penn State's season opener, sacked Barrett for a 13-yard loss on third down. Linemen Kevin Givens and Evan Schwan sacked Barrett on fourth down, giving Penn State the ball with 1:02 to play as the noise became even more deafening.

After two kneel-downs by McSorley, the game ended, and waves of white-clad students stormed down from the stands.

"I've worked in every major conference as well as the NFL," Franklin said, "and I can't imagine there's a better environment than what that was out there tonight. So I just couldn't be more proud."

jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq