UNIVERSITY PARK - Like a lot of his friends and teammates, Tyler Futrell attended Penn State football games while he was growing up, imagining perhaps one day playing in front of 100,000 people at Beaver Stadium and leaving the field victorious.
Futrell got to live out that dream on Saturday afternoon, but he did it as a member of the Ohio Bobcats, who stunned the Nittany Lions, 24-14.
"Just to play in front of them is unbelievable," Futrell. "To come out with a 'W,' I'm just ecstatic. I can't even begin to describe it."
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Ohio’s Alphonso Lewis (46), an Altoona native, joins in with teammates in stopping Penn State’s Derek Day.
There were at least three other Bobcats who could relate to what Futrell was feeling. His Altoona Area High School teammates, Alphonso Lewis and Neal Huynh, also suited up for the Bobcats. So did Hollidaysburg product Ryan McGrath.
Not only did all play, all contributed to Ohio's win. Futrell caught two quick passes in traffic for 20 yards, both converting third downs. McGrath started at right tackle on a Bobcat offensive front that wore down Penn State's heralded front seven as the game progressed, paving the way for Tyler Tettleton to throw for 324 yards and Beau Blankenship to run for 109. A defensive end in high school, the now 315-pound Huynh started at nose tackle, batting down a pass and helping hold the Nittany Lions to 92 yards on the ground.
Lewis, a linebacker, might have played the most pivotal role - he was leading Ohio in tackles with four in the early going and recovered a muffed Gerald Hodges punt return at the Lion 13 early in the second quarter. That set up a field goal that stunted a tidal wave of Penn State momentum up to that point.
"I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, thanks to the glory of God. I just fell on the ball, and the officials blew it dead," Lewis said. "That kind of slowed them down and speeded us up. It was like, 'Hey guys, we're here. We can get this done.'
"It was just amazing to come back home for the first time, 35 miles from my hometown with people watching it on TV, watching from the stands. It was a great feeling."
The local players weren't the only ones that felt the win was an affirmation.
"A great win for our football team, our program and our fans. Our fans have waited a long time to have any consistency in football," said Ohio coach and Johnstown native Frank Solich, pointing out this was the Bobcats' second straight comeback win - they beat Utah State, 24-23, in last season's Idaho Potato Bowl. "There was a lot of heart shown by our players. I'm so proud of them."
The Bobcats showed a lot of poise. In the first quarter, they were outgained more than three-to-one by the Lions, and only Gerald Moore's hit to cause a Bill Belton fumble deep in the Ohio end to halt Penn State's impressive opening drive kept them from being down two touchdowns - or more - by the start of the second period.
Ohio took advantage of another big break in the first five minutes of the second half when Tettleton underthrew a deep pass into double coverage that seemed destined to be intercepted by either of two Nittany Lion defensive backs. The ball, though, squirted through the hands of safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and right into those of Futrell's backup on the Bobcat depth chart, Landon Smith.
Smith went the rest of the way on a 43-yard touchdown play.
"That was my fault, forcing that. I'm just so happy he had a chance to catch it," Tettleton said. "Anytime those guys have the ball in their hands, they have a chance to make a great play."
Ohio iced the game with a 14-play, 93-yard drive in the fourth quarter, ending in Tettleton's 5-yard scoring pass to Donte Foster. Ohio finished with 499 yards, 447 of that coming in the final three quarters.
"I'm so thankful for the line we have," Blankenship said. "They make us look good."
Blankenship said the Bobcats, who were 10-4 last year and entered the game taking six points, didn't feel they were underdogs. Lewis later shared the same sentiment.
"We've got a really good team. We knew we had a chance to come in here and upset Penn State," Lewis said. "There was never a point in the game that I thought we didn't have a chance. We were down before to Utah State, and we rose to the occasion and came back."
Although he was back home, Lewis only took advantage of his usual four allotted complimentary tickets to have his mother, step-father, father and his paternal grandmother attend; he told the rest of his friends to stay at home out of the heat and humidity and enjoy watching the game on high-definition TV. Futrell took the opposite approach and was hoping to see a dozen-to-two-dozen familiar faces waiting to greet him as he prepared to leave the stadium.
"Since I live so far from Ohio, a lot of people don't get the opportunity to come and watch us play. It's such a good feeling to be here and actually be able to perform in front of family and friends," Futrell said.
The local players did a good job keeping their emotions on an even-keel, Tettleton said.
"I didn't really [notice anything from them]. Obvious, playing close to home, they were going to be excited," Tettleton said.
"Once we're on the field, you block out everything around you, and you just do how you've been practicing," Futrell said. "It's just you and the quarterback doing what you've been doing."
Now that the job is done, the local players could fully savor it.
"It feels good to be a hometown guy coming here and getting the victory," Lewis said.
"I'm sure I'll get a lot of love for this," Futrell said.