‘Young Mitch’: Best of times and worst of times covering Penn St football

It has been the best of times; it has been the worst of times.

It has been a while since my last WTO column. Last time I wrote, I was camping outside Gate A at Beaver Stadium for a chance to sit in the front row.

This year, I’ve managed to do a bit better, getting on the sideline as a photographer for Onward State.

Started by four students in their freshmen dorms five years ago, Onward State started off with humble aspirations to be the alternative news source to the campus’ daily paper The Daily Collegian. Things have changed. With over 45,000 Twitter followers (over 45,000 on Facebook, too) ,we’ve not only grown larger than The Collegian, but larger than any other student-run media organization in the world.

As a writer and photographer, I get to experience a lot of strange, but cool, Penn State activities. From concerts to Quidditch matches (seriously), I’ve covered it. But the best part – even when we lose – is covering football.

As anyone who follows Penn State football knows, it has been an emotional roller coaster lately. The word “historic” provides a pretty good generalization of the past three weeks. Unfortunately, historic is not always a good thing.

It all started with a 20-point loss to Indiana – Penn State’s first loss to Indiana of all time.

It was the worst of times.

The Indiana game was bad, but a week later came one of the craziest games in the school’s history: a 43-40 quadruple overtime win over an undefeated Michigan team. By the second overtime I wasn’t even taking pictures. My camera was on the ground, my fingers were crossed, and I was praying that our bad kicker could be just a little bit better than their bad kicker. It took everything but the planets aligning to get it done, but Penn State got the win and that’s all that counts. It was the first quadruple overtime in Big Ten history and was being called one of the craziest games Penn State has ever played before the players had left the stadium. After a week at the bottom, Penn State was back on top.

It was the best of times.

Flash forward and it’s 2:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. Penn State just had one of the worst losses in its history against Ohio State. The 63-14 loss is Penn State’s worst since 1899 when it lost to the Duquesne Athletic Club. And so, three hours after the loss, my fellow Onward State writers are sitting with me in a hotel lobby, sadly typing post-game articles for the next morning and avoiding eye contact with any of the Ohio State fans walking through.

It is the worst of times.

The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Ohio State week started when a mediocre Iowa team hung with the Buckeyes, giving Penn State a glimmer of hope. The campus quickly adopted #OhioStateHateWeek to rally for the game. The premise, as you might have guessed, is to hate on Ohio State with gems like:

“‘The Horseshoe’ was originally supposed to be a complete circle, but OSU ran out of money after paying players salaries.”

“What do you call a good looking girl at Ohio State? A visitor.”

“Q: A Penn State kid and an Ohio State kid are in 3rd grade. Who is bigger? A: The Ohio State kid. He’s 16.”

“How many OSU freshmen does it take to screw in a light bulb? Trick question, it’s a senior-level class.”

On Friday, the Onward State crew set off on the six-hour drive to Columbus, Ohio with high hopes. The consensus prediction was that Penn State had a 35 percent chance of winning. It would be a close game until the fourth quarter and then OSU would pull away. Boy, were we wrong.

On Saturday morning we arrived at Ohio State’s stadium, The Horseshoe, four hours before the eight o’clock kickoff. I was taking photos on the sideline, so I headed down while our writers went to the press box and began their pre-game coverage. Up until kickoff, the Penn State sideline was electric. The players were hyped up and Coach Bill O’Brien looked confident. But then Ohio State quickly scored. And quickly scored again. And again.

The game was out of hand almost as soon as it started.

The pounding actually made my job a lot easier. Typically, I have to sprint from the sideline to the media room and upload pictures several times a game for our online content. This game was so lopsided, Penn State wasn’t doing anything that deserved to be preserved in a picture.

The postgame coverage is always the busiest. Write-ups have to be made, pictures edited and uploaded, post-game interviews have to be transcribed, etc. It wasn’t until after 1:30 a.m. that we finally emerged from the press box. The stadium was empty save for the debris left behind by 105,000 Buckeye fans. With heavy hearts and a sense of drama heightened by our lack of sleep, we made our way to the center of the field and left a memorial to the football gods so that such a travesty might not ever happen again. There, in the middle of the Buckeye “O”, we left a Penn State White Out T-shirt – a token from the previous week’s win. We said a silent prayer and turned our backs to leave. Off of the field, out of Ohio Stadium, and eager to leave the desolate wasteland that is Ohio; we went back to the hotel.

It was only when the sting of defeat dissipated that we really had a chance to find the silver lining:

Hey, at least we don’t live in Ohio.

Maybe I should add a disclaimer: “Spoken by a bitter PSU student. Ohio really isn’t that bad.”

I don’t know how many Ohio State fans live in Warren.

Mitchell Wilston, or “Young Mitch,” is an Eisenhower High School graduate, former athlete, and former or off-and-on Times Observer sports reporter.