STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Ohio State was on the ropes in the first half. The Buckeyes looked all but dead in the second.

They trailed by 12 points in the fourth quarter and then by five with 4:35 left, needing to go 96 yards to win. The way the Buckeyes’ offense stumbled most of the night, victory in front of a roaring Beaver Stadium-record crowd of 110,889 looked improbable.

But the No. 4 Buckeyes found a way. K.J. Hill capped a drive with a 24-yard touchdown catch from Dwayne Haskins Jr. and the Buckeyes staved off No. 9 Penn State’s final drive for a stunning 27-26 victory Saturday night.

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“One of the great drives in Ohio State history,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said.

The victory in Penn State’s "White Out" game gives the Buckeyes (5-0 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) the upper hand in the Big Ten East division. But for most of the game, the Buckeyes looked headed to their first defeat.

They trailed 13-0 in the first half and 26-14 in the fourth quarter. Their offense was stagnant most of the night, and their defense couldn’t stop Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, who had a school-record 461 yards of total offense — 286 passing and 175 rushing.

Haskins, his Ohio State counterpart, struggled for the first time all season, looking for most of the game more like a first-year starter than the Heisman candidate he seemed to be becoming.

And yet when it looked most dire, the Buckeyes came through. Ohio State got within 26-21 when Haskins hit Binjimen Victor for a 46-yard touchdown with 6:42 left, with Victor weaving through defenders after catching the ball at the PSU 35.

“Ben Victor started the bad boy out, that comeback,” Meyer said. “That gave the whole sideline hope.”

But another score was needed, and Penn State punted the ball to the 4.

“It’s kind of hard to prepare for moments like that,” Haskins said. “We try to simulate those hard moments. All we decided was that we love each other and whatever happens, happens, and we were going to put it all on the line for each other.”

Haskins, who finished 22 of 39 for 270 yards and three touchdowns, threw a short pass to J.K. Dobbins, who broke free for a 35-yard gain to start the drive. The Buckeyes had moved to the Penn State 24 when Haskins hit Hill, who got a block from Terry McLaurin — that’s becoming his specialty — and darted into the right side of the end zone.

Ohio State’s two-point conversion failed, meaning that McSorley needed only to drive for a game-winning field goal. He completed a 27-yard pass to start the drive before Ohio State forced Penn State (4-1, 1-1) into fourth-and-5 from the OSU 43.

Penn State elected to give Miles Sanders a handoff instead of having McSorley run or throw. Defensive end Chase Young, a beast all night, stuffed him to seal the victory.

The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions entered the game leading the country in scoring, averaging a combined 110 points per game. But this was not the shootout most expected.

Haskins completed only six of his first 15 passes for 36 yards until his 26-yard screen pass to Dobbins gave Ohio State its first points with just under 2 minutes left in the first half. The score came after a Penn State fumble at its own 25.

The Buckeyes took the lead on their opening possession of the second half when they went 75 yards in 13 plays — none longer than 12 yards — to take a 14-13 lead on a 4-yard run by Dobbins.

But the Buckeyes couldn’t build on their momentum. A face-mask penalty on a successful Sean Nuernberger field goal forced a second, unsuccessful try.

Ohio State’s defense had mostly held Penn State in check, but on a third-and-16 play, McSorley connected with KJ Hamler for a 36-yard completion. Safety Isaiah Pryor was called for targeting on the play, causing his ejection and adding 15 yards to the play to the OSU 15.

McSorley then ran for 12 before throwing to tight end Pat Freiermuth for the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter. When McSorley led the Nittany Lions to another touchdown to make it 26-14 with 8 minutes left, the Buckeyes looked dead.

They were not.

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch