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2002 Rewind: Fiesta Bowl Bound

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 Michigan. That game was played exactly 10 years ago today on Nov. 23, 2002.

2002: Ohio State v. Michigan (Drive-Thru)

Members of the 2002 team will be recognized between the first and second quarters of Saturday’s game with Michigan at Ohio Stadium.

Nothing of value ever comes easy, and that certainly seems to apply to Ohio State.

The No. 2-ranked Buckeyes barely survived nail-biters at Purdue and Illinois, setting the stage for a showdown with rival Michigan with an unbeaten season, a piece of the Big Ten title spot in the national championship game at the Fiesta Bowl on the line.

Once again, OSU survived to live another day after turning back the 12th-ranked Wolverines 14-9 before an Ohio Stadium-record crowd of 105,539 and a national television audience Nov. 22.

Ohio State (13-0, 8-0 Big Ten) sewed up its 29th conference crown and secured a spot in the Jan. 3 Fiesta Bowl with the win, despite trailing most of the way. OSU scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 4-yard run by Maurice Hall with 4:55 left, then created two Michigan turnovers in the final three minutes to hold on for dear life and secure the win.

"We knew it would be a battle," said OSU coach Jim Tressel, who improved to 2-0 against the Wolverines. "Michigan played hard and physical, like every Ohio State and Michigan team does in this game. We knew if we kept at it and got a touchdown there we would have a good chance to win the game."

Michigan (9-3, 6-2) dominated the first half, but only led 9-7 at halftime. The Wolverines held the ball for 19:54, ran 44 plays to OSU's 17 and converted 8 of 11 third downs.

"We missed a couple of tackles in the first half," said OSU safety Donnie Nickey. "That's where they gained most of their yards. We changed up our defense and made some adjustments in the second half. We just played sound defense."

Maurice Clarett rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown in his lone appearance against Michigan

Sure enough, the Wolverines got to the OSU 30 twice in the second half, but failed to score in the final 30 minutes.

"I thought it was a great football game," said Michigan coach Lloyd Carr. "Ohio State did what it had to do to find a way to win. I'm very proud of how our team fought. I thought they played as hard as they possibly could have.

"But we settled for three field goals and Ohio State had two touchdowns."

The Buckeyes rallied in the second half behind a stellar defensive effort and the play of quarterback Craig Krenzel and tailback Maurice Clarett.

Clarett returned after missing all or part of the last four games with a shoulder injury. He finished with 119 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown.

Krenzel hit on 10 of 14 passes for 124 yards. Michael Jenkins caught four passes for 51 yards.

Michigan quarterback John Navarre hit on 23 of 46 passes for 247 yards with an interception.

"They're a good defense," Navarre said of OSU. "They're ranked high for a reason. They made some good plays."

Thousands of OSU fans rushed the field after the win; note Jim Tressel singing Carmen Ohio on the video board

UM receiver Braylon Edwards caught 10 passes for 107 yards, while Ronald Bellamy had eight grabs for 101.

"They're a good defensive team and they're able to make plays," Bellamy said. "They didn't allow us a touchdown. That was the difference in the game. If we score a touchdown, we win the game."

After Hall's touchdown run, OSU's Darrion Scott forced a Navarre fumble which teammate Will Smith recovered at the OSU 36 with 2:02 left.

Then, after Navarre drove the Wolverines down to the OSU 24 in the closing seconds, OSU nickel back Will Allen intercepted his desperation heave just outside the goal line on the final play.

"They had nine points and over 200 something yards in the first half," said OSU safety Mike Doss, whose 13-tackle effort was second only to linebacker Matt Wilhelm's 15. "That's not the way our defense plays. We just decided in the next 30 minutes to leave it all out there on the field.

"We played as a unit and when it was time to make a stop, we made it. We did that in the second half."

As It Happened

The Buckeyes had the ball to open the game, but went three-and-out. UM took possession after the punt on its own 41.

Michigan embarked on its first scoring march, going 41 yards in 12 plays and taking 4:30 off the clock. Navarre converted third downs with passes of 15 yards to Edwards and 19 more to Bellamy. But on third-and-11 from the OSU 19, his pass to Jason Avant was knocked incomplete by Dustin Fox. Adam Finley hit a 36-yard field goal to put UM up 3-0 with 8:35 left in the first quarter.

Ohio State answered with a 10-play, 76-yard scoring possession. Clarett entered on the second play to a large ovation and promptly caught a 9-yard screen for a first down. He converted another first down on a 7-yard run before Krenzel found Gamble for a 14-yard gain. Clarett then exploded through a huge hole for a 28-yard gain and a first down at the UM 11.

On third-and-9 at the 10, Krenzel threw behind Jenkins incomplete at the goal line. But UM cornerback Jeremy LeSueur was flagged for pass interference. On first down at the 2, Clarett followed the Jumbo package and fullback Branden Joe right for the 2-yard TD and a 7-3 lead with 2:56 left in the first.

"All I can say is the line blocked and I ran it into the end zone," Clarett said.

Michigan countered with another marathon scoring possession, holding the ball 6:55. The drive went for 16 plays and netted 62 yards as UM converted 3 of 4 third-down situations. The key play was Navarre's 15-yard toss to Bellamy down to the OSU 37. But his final third-down pass to Edwards in the end zone was incomplete and the Wolverines had to settle for Finley's 35-yard field goal. That cut OSU's lead to 7-6 with 10:56 left in the first half.

Krenzel opened OSU's next possession with a 17-yard pass to Jenkins, but the drive stalled after Krenzel was stopped a yard short on third down and the Buckeyes had to punt the ball away.

Michigan them embarked on a 19-play, 88-yard scoring march that lasted 8:24. Once again, UM was 3 of 4 on third down on the drive. The key play was Navarre's third-down scramble, where he juked Doss, for 12 yards down to the OSU 8.

But on second down, UM's Edwards was flagged for shoving off on Gamble to catch an apparent touchdown. The pass interference penalty backed UM up to the OSU 34. Doss actually appeared to talk the field judge, who was five seconds late with the flag, into the call.

Navarre got some of the yardage back with passes of 10 yards to Edwards and 20 yards to Bennie Joppru. But on fourth-and-goal from the 5, UM had to settle for Finley's 22-yard field goal and a 9-7 lead with 16 seconds left in the first half.

That score stood at halftime and after three quarters as well. OSU moved into UM territory, getting as close as the 35 after Clarett had a 17-yard run and Krenzel scrambled for 13. But Krenzel was stopped at the UM 35 after a third-down scramble and OSU had to punt the ball away. A pair of holding penalties also hurt OSU's cause on its second and third possessions of the second half.

Meanwhile, a pair of UM false start penalties stopped promising drives for the Wolverines.

"We knew at the half we needed to score a touchdown to win the game," Carr said. "We had good field position in the third quarter, but we couldn't get it done."

After Michigan was penalized for a 2-yard halo violation on a punt, OSU got the ball back on its own 43 with 8:30 left in the game.

Krenzel found fullback Brandon Schnittker for a 14-yard gain on first down. It was just the second pass to a fullback all year and Schnittker had to go high to get it.

"That was really intended to Michael (Jenkins)," Schnittker admitted. "But sometimes that's the way things happen. I instinctively jumped up there and grabbed it and got the first down. That got things rolling for us."

Then, on third-and-7 at the UM 40, Krenzel went to an empty backfield. He rolled left, but was shoved out of bounds by UM's Jon Shaw a half yard short. Facing fourth-and-1, Tressel opted for Krenzel to go for it with a quarterback sneak.

"We did that for two reasons," Tressel said. "First, we needed less than a yard. Second, Craig Krenzel would have killed me if I had not let him have a chance to continue that drive. He would have gone haywire if we hadn't gone for it on fourth-and-1."

OSU loaded the right side with the Jumbo package, but Krenzel found a crease between center Alex Stepanovich and left guard Adrien Clarke for a 2-yard gain and a first down at the 32.

Krenzel then faked a give to the fullback and threw down the left sideline to Clarett for a 26-yard gain down to the 6.

"We felt like we could make that play," said Clarett, who lobbied Tressel for a larger role in the passing game.

After Clarett got 2 yards on first down, Hall capped the eight-play, 57-yard scoring drive with a 4-yard run on an option pitch from Krenzel -- another OSU first this year -- to put the Buckeyes up 14-9 with 4:55 left.

"We went over it in practice and we thought it might be a good play for us," Hall said. "We run another similar play out of that formation and in that same situation, but we did something different today."

Aided by a third-down pass interference penalty on Fox, Navarre drove UM down to the OSU 30. But on first down there, OSU's Scott forced a Navarre fumble, which Smith recovered with 2:02 left.

"I was stepping up in the pocket and looking downfield," Navarre said. "I tried to tuck it away, but their guy got a hand on it from behind and knocked it away."

Scott added, "That was a relief and a big momentum boost for us."

Michigan still had two timeouts left and succeeded in forcing an OSU punt, getting the ball back on its own 20 with just 58 seconds left.

Navarre converted a fourth down with an 11-yard pass to Edwards. He found Bellamy for 15 yards before OSU's Gamble was flagged for pass interference. A 17-yard toss to Bellamy put the Wolverines in business at the OSU 24, but there were just 9 seconds left.

Navarre spiked the ball to stop the clock at 7 seconds. Then, he threw out of the end zone incomplete on second down, leaving just one tick on the clock. UM's final play was a mix-up, but Navarre threw deep down the left side. But Allen played the ball perfectly and cut in front of the receiver to make the interception.

"We should have been in three-wides there, throwing the ball into the end zone," Carr said of the last play. "But John got the signal wrong and we ended up in a formation we really didn't want to be in."

Allen's pick touched off a massive on-field celebration that lasted for over half an hour as thousands of OSU fans stormed the field and celebrated their team’s berth in the national championship game.

OSU radio play-by-play announcer Paul Keels said it best when he said, “And the Buckeyes are headed to the desert!”

Game Notes

* OSU trailed at halftime for the fifth time this year. The Buckeyes previously rallied in the second half for home wins over Washington State and Penn State and road victories at Cincinnati and Wisconsin.

* OSU has now outscored opponents 199-54 in the second half, including 117-24 in the third quarter.

* OSU's 13 wins are a school- and Big Ten-record for a single season.

* OSU defeated Michigan in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1981-82 and for just the 10th time in school history.

* Krenzel became the first quarterback since Mike Tomczak to win two starts over Michigan. Tomczak led OSU to wins over Michigan in 1982 and '84.

Krenzel became the first OSU quarterback since Cornelius Greene to lead the Buckeyes to consecutive wins over the Wolverines. Greene did it in 1974-75.

* Michigan maintains the overall series lead at 56-37-6, but OSU trimmed UM's lead in Columbus to 27-20-2.

* The Buckeyes improved to 4-0 against ranked teams this year.

* Carr's record as the UM coach against top-10 teams dipped to 11-3. He is now 5-3 against OSU, including 2-2 in Columbus.

* Ohio State claimed its first Big Ten championship since 1998. The Buckeyes shared the title with Iowa (11-1, 8-0). This marked just the fourth time since 1930 that two league teams tied for the title with unbeaten and untied conference marks.

* The Buckeyes are ticketed for the Fiesta Bowl, set for Jan. 3 in Tempe, Ariz. This will be OSU's third Fiesta Bowl appearance. The Buckeyes lost to Penn State 31-19 after the 1980 season and defeated Pittsburgh 28-23 after the 1983 campaign.

Top-ranked Miami (Fla.) (10-0) is the odds on favorite to be OSU's opponent. But it will not be finalized until the final Bowl Championship Series results are released Dec. 8.

Next Up: The Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3, 2003.

Also Check Out

For a look back at the history of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, click here.

Previous Installments

2002 Rewind: OSU vs. Texas Tech

2002 Flashback: OSU vs. Kent State

2002 Flashback: OSU vs. Washington State

2002 Flashback: OSU vs. Cincinnati

2002 Flashback: OSU vs. Indiana

2002 Flashback: OSU vs. Northwestern

2002 Flashback: OSU vs. San Jose State

2002 Flashback: OSU vs. Wisconsin

2002 Flashback: OSU vs. Penn State

2002 Flashback: OSU vs. Minnesota

2002 Flashback: OSU vs. Purdue

2002 Flashback: OSU vs. Illinois

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:

Steve Helwagen
P.O. Box 34
Pataskala, OH 43062
Allow 2 weeks for shipping.

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