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Jerron Cage returns a fumble 57 yards for a touchdown against Penn State.

COLUMBUS -- The Ohio State defense made a monster play, and it arrived in a tight, and critical Big Ten victory. It can't be a coincidence this is Halloween weekend.

Defensive tackle Jerron Cage's surprising 57-yard fumble return for a touchdown was the key score, and helped the Buckeyes survive a stirring challenge from Penn State in a 33-24 victory.

“That play was really a game-changer for us," Ohio State defensive back Cameron Brown said of Cage's dash to the end zone in the second quarter.

That such a play came from the much-maligned defense was nearly as surprising as a 20-point underdog that lost at home to Illinois last week challenging one of the hottest teams in the country.

Penn State struck first for a 7-0 lead, and maintained a 7-3 edge in the second quarter.

Finally after a very slow start, Buckeye quarterback C.J. Stroud found Chris Olave for a 38-yard TD to give the Buckeyes their first advantage at 10-7. On the next series, defensive ends Tyreke Smith and Zach Harrison sacked Sean Clifford and the ball shook loose. Cage picked it up and rumbled untouched to the end zone for a 17-7 bulge.

"What? Is he running for the score?" Harrison said he thought as the play unfolded.

Coach Ryan Day noted he didn't recruit Cage to carry the ball.

"He was carrying it like a loaf of bread," Day said.

But it created a margin the Nittany Lions (5-3 overall, 2-3 in the Big Ten) could never eclipse, despite Clifford's 361 yards passing. The Lions were not balanced offensively though, managing just 33 yards rushing on 29 carries.

"I'm glad we came and competed and we gave ourselves a chance to win -- but the bottom line is we didn't get it done," Penn State coach James Franklin said.

Indeed, Franklin had to be disappointed. His squads have made a routine of pushing Ohio State to the brink, regardless of the Lions' season, but coming up short.

Such was the case on Saturday, too. Ohio State (7-1, 5-0) had six trips into the red zone, and scored just one touchdown. Yet it was enough.

“Defense won this game, in my opinion," Day said. "If our defense can play like they did tonight, we've got a chance to be really good.”

Freshman TreVeyon Henderson ripped off 152 yards on 28 carries. Stroud completed 22-of-34 passes for 305 yards and a TD.

Yet the verdict wasn't secured until Penn State missed a late 49-yard field goal that would have made it a one-score game.

“I'm proud of our guys for working through a gritty game like this," Day said. "It's not untypical of a Penn State game.”

Ohio State enjoyed perfect field-goal accuracy from Noah Ruggles. Leading 30-24 with 2:41 remaining, Ruggles made his fourth field goal of the game, a 26-yard boot, to put the Buckeyes ahead by two scores. Ruggles was successful from 35, 23, 25 and 26 yards.

It was Ohio State's 20th straight win over a ranked conference foe. Day is still undefeated against Big Ten teams, too.

"When you look at college football right now, it's about surviving and moving on -- especially with some of the teams we're playing," Day said.

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I've lived in Richland Co. since 1990, married here, our children were born here. This is home. I have two books published on a passion topic, Ohio high school football. Others: Buckeyes, Cavs, Bengals, Reds, History, Disney.

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