‘Worst feeling of my life’

By Joe Starkey
Updated: October 26, 2008

COLUMBUS — As the Ohio State players sang their Alma Mater — Carmen Ohio — with their fans after a bitter 13-6 loss to Penn State on Saturday night, freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor doubled over in apparent agony, then dropped to one knee.

Pryor wasn’t injured. He was crushed by what he called the hardest loss of his life.

“I never faced adversity like this before,” Pryor said later. “I can’t even explain.”

Everything changed when Ohio State, protecting a 6-3 lead, lined up third-and-one at midfield with a little more than 10 minutes left in regulation. Pryor, who was the hottest recruit in the country when he was at Jeannette High School, broke outside on a sneak, only to have Penn State strong safety Mark Rubin — fittingly listed as “hero” on the lineup sheet — poke the ball loose.

A wild scramble ensued.

Penn State’s Navorro Bowman wound up with the ball at the Ohio State 38. To add to the drama, Nittany Lions’ backup quarterback Pat Devlin then entered the game to replace concussed starter Daryll Clark.

Aided by a pass interference penalty, Penn State went seven plays for the go-ahead score. Devlin capped the drive with a sneak on third-and-goal from about six inches.

Pryor said he could have — maybe should have — taken the ball up the middle but opted to cut outside to try to make a big play. That’s the way great players think. Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said he thought Pryor made the right read.

“I thought I was scoring a touchdown,” Pryor said. “I was looking at the end zone. I was going to beat No. 9 (Rubin). I guess he just punched it out. It was the worst feeling of my life. … I knew I’d probably get in trouble in the film room for (taking the play outside), but I wanted to make a play.”

Pryor was the last Ohio State player to meet the media after the game. He arrived at the podium with heavy eyes. His teammates said he’d blamed himself for a loss that probably ruined Ohio State’s chance for a Big Ten championship and definitely killed its faint hope for a third straight appearance in the national championship game.

“He’s taking it hard,” said senior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins. “He feels like he lost the game. But I told him that’s not the case. It’s a team thing. You can’t win the game by yourself. You can’t lose the game by yourself. Of course he’s disappointed with the mistakes he made, but I’m very proud of him. He puts a lot of pressure on himself, especially with the seniors.”

Pryor completed 16 of 25 passes for 226 yards and an interception. Penn State’s Lydell Sargeant sealed the win with 27 seconds left, picking off Pryor’s 36-yard heave toward the end zone.

On the ground, Ohio State got very little going against an incredibly stingy Penn State defense. Pryor finished with just six yards on nine carries. Tailback Chris “Beanie” Wells had 55 yards on 22 carries, though Ohio State was beginning to establish something when Pryor fumbled.

As Pryor spoke to the media, Nick Siciliano, Ohio State’s offensive quality control coach, sat next to him and repeatedly patted him on the back.

Somebody asked Pryor how this felt compared to anything else he’d experienced as an athlete.

Anything close?

“Nothing,” Pryor said, “’cause I’m close to the senior group, and I let ’em down.”

The third-ranked Nittany Lions, meanwhile, cleared a monster hurdle on their path to a possible date in the national championship game. They need to win their final three games, hope one of the two teams above them (Alabama, Texas) in the BCS Standings loses and pray that nothing unexpected happens in the funky formula that determines the title-game matchup.

Penn State hadn’t won here since it joined the Big Ten in 1993. Hadn’t even cracked the 10-point barrier in any of their seven losses.

One big play by their “hero” kept the dream alive.

Pryor left feeling like the goat. This one will stay with him for a while.

What’s the remedy?

“Step up and win some games,” he said.