home. On behalf of Scarlet and Gray believers everywhere that lived through that magical ’02 campaign, I tell TNT, “You don’t know jack”.
The four-point win over Cincinnati had been the closest shave in a 7-0 start for the Bucks that saw them outscore the opposition by an average of 38-15. It was the next 5 weeks where things went deliciously berserk. 5 more wins, with 4 by a touchdown or less. A tough victory in Madison, a defensive gem against JoePa that was Chris Gamble’s coming-out party, the “Holy Buckeye” miracle in West Lafayette (see Drive #7), and Ohio State’s first-ever overtime game in Champaign- a 23-16 triumph that made them the first team in school history to win 12 games in a season. Now, with 12 down and “THE GAME” to go, the Buckeyes were “all in”. Although a win over TBGUN would result in a co-Big Ten title with Iowa, OSU wouldn’t be sharing a trip to Tempe, Arizona to play in the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship. It would be theirs for the taking.
Iowa, at 8-0 in league play, would claim an outright Big Ten championship with a Buckeye loss, but OSU held the ultimate trump card- overall record- since the Hawkeyes had stubbed their toe against Iowa State 36-31 on September 14th. Ohio State and Iowa had not met in 2002, which caused unending angst in Iowa City and especially around the ESPN studios in Bristol, CT. Didn’t really matter, though- the Bucks had run the gauntlet unscathed so far, and one more win would put them in the BCS title game on January 3rd.
It had been anything but boring with Maurice around, and now he was about to turn this game on its’ ear. Bobbling, then catching a short pass from Craig Krenzel on his first play, Clarett dodged Marlin Jackson and picked up OSU’s initial first down at the Buckeye 36. Michael Jenkins hauled in a flanker screen, but Marlin Jackson was able to strip the ball loose. Freshman tight end Ryan Hamby covered it up and the Bucks got an 8-yard gain out of it. Clarett came back on 2nd-and-2 with a 7-yard jaunt, but had to leave after getting poked in the eye. After a false start call, Krenzel fired to Chris Gamble who came up just a yard shy of the marker. Gamble, second only to Clarett in popularity thanks to his all-around efforts, was coming off participating in 128 plays against Illinois. With the ball now on Michigan’s 40, Clarett returned to the lineup and got the handoff on the “Power O”. Breaking up the middle, Mo bounced to his left, then shook off Jeremy Lesueur as he cut back right. Safety Charles Drake finally brought Clarett down after a 29-yard pickup that had the joint jumping. It was first down from the UM 11, and just as quickly as the capacity throng had been energized by the breakaway run, it went silent as Clarett came away from a one-yard gain on the next play in an unfortunately familiar sight- heading to the sideline with his arm dangling. The Wolverine defense continued to lay the wood as Krenzel was racked up by Carl Diggs and Victor Hobson after running for 5 to the Wolves’ 4. It was taking Craig awhile to clear his head and the Bucks drew a delay-of-game flag, pushing them back to the 10, where it was 3rd-and-9. Krenzel threw a slant pass towards Jenkins coming from the left side, but the pass was behind him. Jeremy Lesueur plowed into Jenkins, drawing the laundry for interference, and OSU had new life with a 1st-and-goal at the 2. And just like John Wayne coming through the saloon doors, Maurice Clarett headed back out, much to the relief of the crowd. There wouldn’t be any denying OSU this time, as Clarett swept the right side and pulled away from Cato June to tumble into the endzone. Mike Nugent drilled the PAT and with 2:56 to play in quarter 1, Clarett’s 14th rushing TD of the year had the Buckeyes up 7-3.
Michigan punched out a couple of first downs on the ensuing drive, and as the quarter ended they were set up at their 47. During the commercial break, the TV audience was “treated” to the Suzuki Heisman Memory, featuring the one-millionth showing of Desmond Howard’s punt return in ’91. Enough already!
midfield Krenzel was stopped short on a scramble by Carl Diggs, who suffered a broken leg making the tackle. Diggs was carried off, further depleting a Wolverine linebacking corps that had been decimated by injuries all season. Andy Groom got off a 40-yard punt, pinning UM at its’ own 8.
B.J. Askew worked a 3rd-and-9 draw for 11 as Lloyd Carr’s troops continued to wriggle off the hook. Askew got the call again on a 3rd-and-2 a few plays later and just did get the first down despite a shot from Michael Doss. Michigan marched to the Buckeye 20, where Navarre lumbered for 12 on a 3rd-and-4. The Wolverines were now 8 of 10 on third-down conversions, and as they took a timeout with 1:19 to go in the first half, the ball rested on the OSU 8. With the stoppage in play giving the Buckeye defense a chance to regroup, defensive tackle Tim Anderson bulled in to sack Navarre for a loss of six on first down. Following another UM timeout, the crowd made its presence known, shaking the 80-year old stadium and forcing a Michigan false start. Now with 2nd-and-goal from the 19, Navarre went for the endzone to Braylon Edwards, who pushed off on Chris Gamble and gathered the ball in for an apparent score. But in a moment that foreshadowed what would happen in Tempe 40 days later, the official was late getting his flag out of his pocket. The yellow finally flew, and with the score negated and the yardage marked off the Wolves now faced 2nd-and-goal from their own 34! Navarre came right back to Edwards for 10, then drilled tight end Bennie Joppru for 19 down the middle, bringing up 4th-and-goal at the Buckeye 5. Lloyd Carr exhausted his final timeout, then sent in Adam Finley for the field goal try. Finley’s kick was true, and his 3-for-3 day now put UM back up 9-7, concluding a monster 19-play, 87-yard march that burned up 8:22 on the clock. If Ohio State was going to reach the never-before-scaled heights of 13-0, they would need their seventh second-half comeback of 2002.
defense, the Bucks didn’t threaten at all. The game moved into the fourth period with Michigan still holding its precarious 9-7 lead.
Early in the fourth, Craig Krenzel and Michael Jenkins teamed up on a 16-yard pass play on 3rd-and-14- the Buckeyes’ first third-down conversion of the day. If someone had told you at that point that it would be their last as well, how high would your blood pressure have skyrocketed? A holding call aided in short-circuiting the march, and Michigan took over at their 17
Adam Finley punted to Chris Gamble at the Ohio State 32. The Wolverines hit Chris too early, so with the penalty added the Buckeyes would have their best field position of the day at their own 43. 8:30 remained in the game and the Buckeyes were running out of chances.
As Craig Krenzel dropped to throw on first down, he spotted Michael Jenkins coming open and fired his way, but the pass was snagged out of the air…by fullback Brandon Schnittker. The Sandusky native pounded down to the UM 42 with his second reception of the season. Having the benefit of the instant replay, ABC color commentator Gary Danielson had to chuckle as the angle from behind the offense clearly showed Jenkins was the intended receiver. There’s no reason to believe that Jenkins wouldn’t have made the catch, but nevertheless Schnittker had lit the fuse. Krenzel ran a keeper for 4, but then Victor Hobson threw Maurice Clarett for a three-yard loss. Facing third-and-9, the Buckeyes went 5-wide with Krenzel alone in the backfield. Rolling to his left, Craig tucked it away and headed for the Buckeye sideline. He appeared to literally have been brought down on top of the marker, and the officials called time to check it out. During the measurement, ABC rolled the replay of Krenzel’s clutch 14-yard run on 3rd-and-10 during the Illinois overtime. While that had been one of the biggest first downs of the season, this was not- the Buckeyes were just short. With the ball at the 33, it would be a 50-yard field goal attempt for Mike Nugent with the wind at his back, but two thoughts played into Jim Tressel’s decision to go for it. “For one thing, we needed less than a yard,” the coach later explained. And, two, Craig Krenzel would have killed me”.
the game away. Three unimaginative running plays later, OSU had punted, and the Illini had driven down for the field goal that sent the game to overtime. A field goal would do the Wolverines no good- they had to go the distance. The Horseshoe held its collective breath as Andy Groom got the punt away, and Julius Curry was run out of bounds at his 20. With 58 seconds to go, TBGUN was 80 yards away from not just breaking OSU’s heart, but ripping it out and stomping on it. If there was any reason at all for Buckeye Nation to breathe, at least the game was in the hands of the defense.
Navarre threw incomplete to Joppru, and then Edwards. When Will Allen broke up a pass intended for Jason Avant, it was fourth-and Tempe to go.
Navarre bobbled the shotgun snap, but corralled it and fired towards Edwards. With Matt Wilhelm piggybacking him, Braylon picked up 11 and a first down. Michael Doss broke up a pass for Bellamy, but Navarre went right back to him and Bellamy latched onto it for 15 more and a first down at the UM 46. Navarre spiked the ball to stop the clock, then tossed a second-down throw for Avant. Chris Gamble batted it away, but made contact with Avant, drawing a flag. The Wolverines were now in Ohio State territory at the 41 with 19 seconds left, and if anything had left themselves a chance to at least get a “Hail Mary” to the endzone. Navarre ate up more yardage by slinging a 17-yard laser to his money man Bellamy, and after hustling to the line and spiking the ball, he had Michigan at the Buckeye 24 with seven seconds left.
As Navarre retreated to throw, Will Smith came on a delayed blitz. Navarre had to unload, and his pass for Edwards sailed out of the endzone. Every pair of eyes in the place immediately looked up at the scoreboard, and saw that the clock had stopped- with ONE second left. Ohio State’s entire season was down to one play. Hollywood could have never come up with something like this.
John Navarre faded back as the clock struck zero. Braylon Edwards, heading down the left seam, actually got behind Chris Gamble, and Michael Doss was a step late coming over. Navarre’s throw was on target and Gamble and Doss actually ran into each other. But right at the goalline, Will Allen flashed in front of Edwards and picked it off, tumbling to the ground at the five-yard line.
In the radio booth, Paul Keels’ mind was on the Arizona sunshine as he bellowed, “Intercepted! Intercepted at the five-yard line! And the Buckeyes are headed to the desert!” Meanwhile, down the row in the television booth, Brent Musburger kept things in the here and now- “(Navarre) fires…endzone…Let’s party Columbus!”
ever overtime to dispense with Illinois…”THE GAME” literally going down to the last second…What could this team of destiny POSSIBLY do for an encore?