One Hour to Midnight

By Ramzy Nasrallah on September 30, 2018 at 1:05 pm

America's Saturday evening local broadcasts were all delayed last night.

If you tuned into ABC right at the stroke of 11pm expecting the customary daily recap of the news, you were instead greeted by a brilliant, blimp's-eye view of Beaver Stadium and the sound of roughly 100,000 of its guests screaming the words to Bon Jovi's Livin' on a Prayer into the night sky. 

The broadcast camera switched from the one onboard that blimp to another that was positioned behind the Penn State sideline, where players were conducting the crowd as it sang. Their faces were glowing, matching the stadium's ambience. The home team was up 26-14 with under eight minutes remaining. It wouldn't be long now.

That score told the story. If Ohio State had only been able to muster 14 points in 52 minutes of game play, the final eight were destined to be academic. The Buckeye offense to that point was barely recognizable from the one that had piled up yards and touchdowns the previous four weeks.

If that offense hadn't show up for the first 52 minutes, it wasn't going to show up at all.

Penn State's win probability was north of 96% at the moment when local news teams, seated in live broadcast positions, were kept waiting across the country by the game in Happy Valley. It was one hour to midnight, both literally and figuratively.

The Nittany Lions booted the kickoff into the endzone. Dwayne Haskins chunked the offense to a 1st down on two short passing plays before Austin Mack was tackled while in his route on the third, giving the Buckeyes 15 extra yards. Then, on the fourth play, Binjimen Victor caught his sixth pass of the season.

Faces in the crowd that had been happily SCREAMING glam-rock hits of the EIGHTIES JUST minutes earlier were now making nervous shouting noises INSTEAD.

He snatched the ball out of the sky, slid by a couple of tacklers and then glided with what appeared to be the urgency of a C-student getting to class on time all the way to the end zone, 47 yards from scrimmage. Each Penn State defender in his vicinity either ran into Victor's fellow receivers or into each other. The tone just three minutes earlier had been jubilant. Ohio State's scoring drive removed only 63 seconds from the game clock.

It was now 57 minutes to midnight, but midnight would come sooner. Nobody was singing anymore. The loudest plot of land in America was quiet. In 180 seconds the entire mood changed.

Penn State received the ball with nearly seven minutes remaining in the game and held onto it for almost two of them before giving it back to the Buckeyes - but back at their own four-yard line. Then the noise arrived again. This time it lacked any jubilation. It was apprehensive and manufactured.

Faces in the crowd that had been happily singing glam-rock hits of the 80s minutes earlier were now just making nervous shouting noises. That brilliant blimp's eye view of Beaver Stadium might have looked the same, but at the ground level it did not feel like the same game at all. Big home crowds are smart, which makes them bad liars. Momentum is something you can feel washing over or abandoning you. It had crossed the field to the wrong sideline.

The Buckeyes traveled all 96 yards in eight plays, taking both the lead and two and a half minutes off the game clock. In real time it was now 11:19pm. Nineteen minutes separated Livin' on a Prayer from living on a prayer.

Ohio State took a delay of game penalty on the two-point conversion, providing a glimpse for viewers who missed the first three hours of game play into the maddening lack of discipline this enormously talented team carries with it like baggage it refuses to check. The home team would have one final shot to get into field goal range, become legends and reverse the comeback. A happy ending was still in play.

Penn State's last gasp only spanned five plays, but it took 15 agonizing minutes. At 11:34pm the visitors were in Victory Formation, and local news teams across the country knew they would finally be on the air in a matter of minutes.

Second-guessing Ohio State's decision to only casually spy a notoriously mobile quarterback for most of the evening evaporated, replaced by second-guessing the Nittany Lions' decision to take the ball out of his hands with the game on the line. The game was over and the Buckeyes were singing Carmen Ohio in one end zone while the home team was singing its alma mater in the other.

It was 11:40pm. But it was midnight in Happy Valley.

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