EDITOR’S NOTE – This season marks the 10-year anniversary of Ohio State’s 2002 national championship season. We will share stories on all 14 of OSU’s wins that season, including this look at the win over Illinois. That game was played exactly 10 years ago today on Nov. 16, 2002.
Video highlights of OSU's 2002 win at Illinois
Ohio State made history as it took a step closer to some real history.
The No. 2-ranked Buckeyes went to overtime for the first time in school history, holding off upset-minded Illinois 23-16 before 58,810 Nov. 16 in Champaign.
The win gives Ohio State a 12-0 start for the first time in school history. The Buckeyes (7-0 Big Ten) are one victory away from a berth in the Bowl Championship Series title game at the Fiesta Bowl Jan. 3. But the Buckeyes must still defeat Michigan Nov. 23 to claim a share of the Big Ten championship. Iowa (11-1, 8-0) locked up a piece of the crown and likely the Rose Bowl berth with its Nov. 16 win at Minnesota.
"That was just a great Big Ten college football game," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "I couldn't be any prouder of our group."
Illinois kicker John Gockman connected on a 48-yard field goal on the final play of regulation to tie it at 16-16 and force the overtime.
OSU got the ball first in the extra period and put it in the end zone on backup tailback Maurice Hall's 8-yard touchdown run.
"We never gave up and that counts for a lot," Hall said. "When it comes down to it, we just keep fighting and today we still were able to win the game."
The OSU defense then stood tall, stopping the Illini (4-7, 3-4) on downs to wrap it up and touch off a massive OSU celebration.
Chris Gamble started at flanker and corner vs. Illinois
Overtime was approved for Division I-A beginning with the 1996 postseason. OSU had played 73 games without having to go OT, the longest string of any team in the Big Ten.
"I have been in an overtime game before," said Tressel, whose Youngstown State teams faced OT in the Division I-AA playoffs. "I'm not sure any of these kids have been. I know before they went out there before the coin toss in overtime, our captains, Donnie Nickey and Mike Doss, were commenting, 'How much fun is this?'
"I said,'This is what it's all about.' "
The teams endured a blustery day in the wind tunnel known as Memorial Stadium. The gametime temperature was 40 degrees with a stiff 14 mph wind out of the north.
OSU played without two of its key players in tailback Maurice Clarett (shoulder) and defensive end Darrion Scott (groin).
And, kicker Mike Nugent, who had made 21 straight kicks this season coming in, was 3 of 5 on field goals to see his string snapped.
Another string that went by the wayside was the OSU defense's string of 13 quarters without allowing a touchdown. The Illini snapped it on a 19-yard pass from Jon Beutjer to Walter Young that briefly gave Illinois a 10-6 lead.
With Clarett shelved, the passing combination of quarterback Craig Krenzel and Michael Jenkins, who hooked up for the game-winning touchdown a week earlier at Purdue, again came up big.
Krenzel hit on 10 of 21 passes for 176 yards, including a 50-yard TD to Jenkins that allowed OSU to reclaim the lead at 13-10 in the third quarter. Jenkins caught six passes for 147 yards.
"Mike is a great player," Krenzel said. "There were a number of times today they singled him up outside. We just tried to take advantage of it."
Hall ended up with 69 yards on 17 carries. Lydell Ross, who started in Clarett's place, finished with 51 yards on 15 carries.
Illinois outgained OSU 358-321 in total yardage. But the Buckeyes had a number of contributors on defense, including defensive tackle David Thompson. He replaced Scott in the starting lineup as Kenny Peterson moved outside to end. Thompson finished with a hand in four sacks.
"I was juiced up," said Thompson, who matched Jason Simmons' OSU mark for sacks in a game (Washington State, 1991). "I wasn't excited because Darrion wasn't going to play. I had started a few games earlier this year, but I think I stepped up and played better today."
Beutjer ended up 27 of 45 passing for 305 yards with a touchdown. He did most of his damage with Young, who had 10 catches for 144 yards with that one score.
"I was very confident," Beutjer said. "I felt we were going to beat them, but it didn't happen. I thought we played really well."
The loss dropped Illinois, the defending Big Ten champion, out of contention for a bowl game.
"I'm awfully proud of this team," said Illinois coach Ron Turner. "They're warriors. They're fighters. They are hurt now. They came back from adversity and kept battling against a great football team."
OSU won by single digits on the road for the fourth time in five away games this year.
"These road games have been tough," Jenkins said. "Nobody said it would be easy to play on the road and try and win a Big Ten championship. But we stuck together and played for 60 minutes. We actually played 65 minutes this week."
Illinois had the ball to open the game, moving into the wind. The OSU defense forced three three-and-outs to open the game. Illinois' first three punts netted just 21, 25 and 22 yards.
OSU took advantage of the second one, gaining possession at the Illinois 29. Ross carried on the first four plays of the drive, netting 21 yards and giving the Buckeyes a first down at the 8.
On second-and-goal from the 7, Krenzel rolled right and took off for the goal line. He dove for the pylon as Illinois' Jeff Ruffin shoved him out of bounds. The officials spotted the ball at the OSU 1.
That would have been fine, but OSU never got a chance to run a third-down play there. In succession, OSU left tackle Ivan Douglas, right tackle Shane Olivea and right guard Bryce Bishop were flagged for false start penalties. The gaffes backed OSU up to the 16.
On third down there, Ross simply tried to put the ball in the middle of the field for Nugent, who came on and hit a 33-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 7:13 left in the first quarter.
"We had some times today we shot ourselves in the foot," said OSU tight end Ben Hartsock. "We had those three motion penalties in a row. That was unbelievable. We can't do that kind of stuff."
Late in the first quarter, OSU took over on its own 42-yard line after another short Illini punt. The Buckeyes moved 28 yards in seven plays before extending the lead to 6-0. Krenzel opened the drive with a 14-yard pass to Chris Gamble. Hall then picked up 16 yards down to the Illini 25 on a counter play.
But Krenzel was sacked on first down, Hall got 1 yard on second down and Krenzel was flushed for no gain on third down. Nugent came on and drilled a 47-yard field goal with 2:31 left in the first quarter.
It was then Illinois' turn to back itself up. The Illini got as far as the OSU 44 before holding and personal foul penalties on subsequent plays backed them up to their own 31, where it was second-and-33. OSU's Kenny Peterson and Will Smith then teamed to sack Beutjer, leaving the Illini in a third-and-42 lerch on their own 22.
But OSU, upon regaining possession at the Illini 47 after the ensuing punt, could not take advantage of the field position. Krenzel converted a first down with an 11-yard pass to Jenkins. But Krenzel came up 2 yards short on a run, leaving OSU with fourth-and-2 at the Illini 20.
Nugent came on, but his 37-yard field goal from the right hashmark sailed wide left with 9:35 left in the first half. His streak was history.
Through their first five possessions, the Illini had managed just 38 yards and two first downs. But they finally got on the scoreboard just before the half, moving 73 yards in 13 plays.
Beutjer got it started with a 25-yard pass to Greg Lewis against OSU's soft zone coverage. Beutjer then converted first downs with a 9-yard scramble and a 9-yard swing pass to Antoineo Harris. The Illini dodged a bullet as Beutjer's pass to Brandon Lloyd was tipped by Dustin Fox and intercepted by Mike Doss. But Fox was flagged for pass interference for having a hand on Lloyd before the ball arrived. The penalty put the ball at the OSU 29 with 1:06 left.
Beutjer got 6 more yards on a pass to Walter Young. But he overthrew Aaron Moorehead in the end zone on second down and was pressured into an incompletion by OSU's Tim Anderson on third down.
John Gockman's 40-yard field goal cut the OSU lead to 6-3 with 31 seconds left in the first half.
OSU took the ball and was given the wind to open the third quarter. But Krenzel threw incomplete twice and was sacked by Illini defensive end Mike O'Brien, turned loose by Bishop, back at the OSU 27.
Andy Groom hit a low 48-yard punt that backed Illinois' Eugene Wilson back to his own 25-yard line. But Wilson went left and was able to turn the corner and roll down the sideline for a 52-yard return. Matt Wilhelm saved the touchdown, but the Illini were in business at the OSU 23.
Harris got 4 yards on first down before Beutjer threw incomplete on second down. Finally, on third-and-6 at the 19, Beutjer executed a pump fake and hit a wide open Young, who got behind Fox, for the 19-yard touchdown and a 10-6 lead with 13:13 left in the third quarter.
OSU did not wait long to reclaim the lead, however. The Buckeyes got possession after a squib kickoff on their own 35. Hall had carries for 6 and 9 yards to open the possession before Krenzel threw incomplete. Krenzel then went deep down the right sideline to Jenkins, who shrugged off interference from Illinois' Mike Hall to haul the ball in at the 5 and glide in for the 50-yard TD that put the Buckeyes back up 13-10 with 12:00 left in the third quarter.
"Craig put it up and I couldn't see the ball," Jenkins said. "It was dead in the center of the lights. But it fell right into my hands and I was able to walk right in with it."
The Illini then rolled 60 yards down to the OSU 20. But on second-and-1 there, Harris was victimized as OSU's Smith reached in and stripped him and teammate Tim Anderson recovered the fumble at the OSU 18 with 8:47 left in the third quarter.
"I came off a block and hit him and the running back coughed it up," Smith said. "That was big in a game like this that could have gone either way."
Illinois had found a rhythm, though, and Beutjer carried it over to the next possession, where he found Young for gains of 20 and 24 yards over Fox. The Illini were in business at the OSU 24. But consecutive sacks by Thompson and Wilhelm forced the Illini to settle for Gockman's 47-yard field goal -- which was plenty good into the wind. The kick tied the game at 13-13 with 2:55 left in the third.
OSU answered right back as Krenzel found Jenkins for gains of 25 and 11 yards down to the Illini 24. The drive stalled after Krenzel was sacked by Illini linebacker Jerry Schumacher. But OSU pushed ahead on Nugent's 37-yard field goal, which put the Buckeyes up 16-13 with 14:14 left in the game.
OSU then held the ball for nearly 6-1/2 minutes, but Nugent misfired on a 41-yard field goal with 5:31 left.
The Illini drove down to the OSU 36, but Thompson and Simon Fraser combined to sack Beutjer back at the OSU 41. Gockman came on and attempted a 58-yard field goal, but it fell short with 2:17 left.
OSU was unable to run the remaining time out and Illinois, after using its two timeouts, got the ball back at its own 25 with 1:04 left.
Beutjer went to work, hitting Lewis for a 7-yard gain on fourth down to convert a first down before finding Aaron Moorehead for gains of 10 and 22 yards. On the second one, Moorehead was shoved out of bounds before coming back in to make the critical grab, which put the Illini in field goal range at the OSU 31 with 10 seconds left.
After Beutjer spiked the ball to stop the clock, Gockman came on and his field goal curved just inside the left upright as time expired to send the game to overtime.
"Many people in that situation with under a minute to go would give up and throw in the towel," Beutjer said. "We didn't do that at all."
Illinois won the toss and elected to go on defense for the overtime, which in college consists of each team getting a chance with the ball from the opponent's 25-yard line.
Krenzel threw incomplete twice before scrambling for a 14-yard gain down to the Illini 8. He then kept the ball on first down there and managed 3 yards.
Hall then went left and cut back behind a block by Adrien Clarke before bouncing off Illini safety Marc Jackson at the 1 before falling into the end zone for the 8-yard TD that put the Buckeyes up 23-16.
"Oh, man," Hall said. "I think their defense was looking at the pass. I think we caught them off-guard. The line and the fullback blocked well and I was fortunate to get in there."
Wilhelm said the defense was champing to get back on the field.
"It was definitely a little disappointing to let them come back like that (at the end of regulation)," he said. "They won the toss and put our offense on the field. That put some pressure on them. We knew they would get three, but when they got the seven that was a big confidence builder for us. We enjoyed going out in that situation."
Once Illinois got the ball, Thompson set the tone with a 9-yard sack of Beutjer back at the 34 on the first play. But Beutjer went back to Young for an 18-yard gain down to the 16. Harris converted the first down with a 5-yard run to the 11.
Harris got 2 yards on first down. Beutjer threw a fade to Moorehead in the right corner of the end zone on second down. He came down with the ball, but Fox succeeded in driving him out of bounds and it was ruled incomplete.
"I thought I was in," Moorehead said. "He pushed me, too. They told me the one foot came down out first. That's the way the breaks go sometimes."
Then, on third down, Beutjer went to Young on a fade in the right corner of the end zone. But Gamble was in coverage and Young was bobbling the ball as he fell out of bounds. It, too, was ruled incomplete.
"The ref told me I bobbled it, that I was out before I regained possession of it," Young said. "That was his call. I wouldn't say that, but I have to live with it."
Facing fourth down, Beutjer dropped to throw, but was under immediate pressure from blitzing linebacker Cie Grant. He threw over the middle, but OSU defensive tackle Tim Anderson batted the pass down incomplete to end the game.
"I just stuck my hand up in the air and hoped for the best," Anderson said. "It hit my arm."
While the Buckeyes celebrated their win, the officials were booed off the field. Afterwards, a pool reporter spoke to Big Ten referee David Witvoet about the two disputed calls at the end.
On the second-down play to Moorehead, Witvoet said, "The pass was ruled incomplete out of bounds. The player was out of bounds."
On the third-down play to Young, the referee said, "The ball was not in possession of the receiver when he was inbounds."
* OSU improved to 58-29-4 all-time against Illinois, including 31-12 in Champaign. OSU has won five in a row at Illinois, dating to a 1991 defeat.
* The Buckeyes finally reached 12 wins to start a season in their fourth attempt.
OSU reached 11-0 for the first time in 1975, but dropped the Rose Bowl to UCLA. The same scenario developed in 1979, but the Buckeyes lost the Rose Bowl to USC. OSU ended both of those seasons 11-1.
In 1995, OSU was 11-0 before losing at Michigan. A Citrus Bowl loss to Tennessee left the Buckeyes at 11-2 that year.
* Tressel improved to 19-5 overall and 12-3 in Big Ten games in two years as the OSU coach.
* Ross made his sixth start this season. Thompson was in the lineup for the fifth time.
Redshirt freshman tight end Redgie Arden made his first career start as the Buckeyes opened the game in a two-tight end set.
* Gamble started his fourth straight game at flanker and cornerback.
Next Up: The Buckeyes hosted Michigan on Nov. 23, 2002.
Relive The Memories
You can still purchase our book on the 2003 Ohio State-Miami (Fla.) Fiesta Bowl, "The Greatest Game Ever Played," directly on eBay with a credit card.
You can click here for more details on the book, including sample pages of the cover, table of contents, my introduction and the chapter on the pivotal second overtime.
To order directly online, click this link for eBay.
Or you may send a check or money order for $20 ($17 for the book, $3 for shipping) to:
P.O. Box 34
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Allow 2 weeks for shipping.