November 30th - A Saturday that may go down as one of the best in college football history. Two of the best rivalries in the sport were taken to a completely different level.
For Buckeye fans, the day began with an opportunity to get all wrapped up into the only game that really matters during football season. It was a chance to assert dominance over the That State Up North once again and stand tall for another 365 days after the Buckeyes were to dismantle the Michigan Wolverines. Ohio State came into the showdown ranked No. 3 in the BCS and a decided favorite. Ohio State was simply expected to step onto the field and take a big bite out of the Wolverines for the dessert to cap off a tasty Thanksgiving meal.
While many may have been sitting on their couches in the warmth of their homes, of course the biggest Buckeye sports follower in the world (self-proclaimed) was stuck on a flight back to Columbus, OH during The Game. The whole morning I was distraught because I was wondering if I would be able to get back in time to see Ohio State continue their winning streak that is tops in the country.
While standing in line to go through security at the airport in Atlanta, GA, 'The Game' kicked off and Twitter went crazy with my timeline filled with Ohio State aficionados. I frantically tried to use the WatchESPN app on my phone to tune in before I subjected to the foulness of TSA security checks, but was unsuccessful. When word came down that the Wolverines had struck first, my uneasiness could be seen from a mile away. I was a nervous wreck trying to make my way swiftly to my gate to see if the Buckeyes could respond to Devin Gardner's early 1-yard touchdown run.
When I finally arrived at my gate, it was to my great surprise that all the televisions were tuned to CNN. You mean… no one had The Game on? Was no one as concerned about Ohio State football on this Saturday afternoon as me? WHAT'S GOING ON IN THIS WORLD?!?!?! Thanks to my colleagues at LGHL, it came to my attention that the Buckeyes had quickly responded with a 53-yard touchdown strike from Braxton Miller to Devin Smith:
(Credit: ESPN on ABC)
All was right with the world...
That is until my flight commenced and all hell seemed to break loose. A Michigan offense that had been inept for most of the season was breaking out against a Buckeye secondary that at times seemed suspect as well. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would show against The Team Up North. All the while I was trying to keep up with The Game on the shotty in-flight Wifi, I could only really discern that Braxton Miller was doing his best with his legs to keep OSU in it and that Michigan was up to their old bag of tricks as they got two Buckeye starters thrown out for a fight that they started. As we landed in Columbus with the score knotted at 21 all, this is the only feeling I had towards the state of Michigan at the moment:
(Credit: ESPN on ABC)
I rushed off the plane and down to baggage claim to retain by luggage. I decided I could not wait around for long and hopped into a cab to get my behind to a television back on campus as soon as possible. To my delight, the cab driver had the radio broadcast of OSU-Michigan blasting in the car. It almost made me forget how much he was over charging me for a 15 minute ride. By then Ohio State had already taken a 28-21 on Braxton Miller's third rushing touchdown of the day. As Miller connected with Jeff Heuerman for 22 yards and a score, I let out one great big Rick Flair styled "WOO!" and breathed a sigh of relief. The Buckeyes were in control 35-21 heading into the fourth quarter of play.
I hopped out of the cab and headed straight into The Ohio Union and entered Woody's Tavern to join fellow Buckeyes for the conclusion of the 110th edition of this rivalry. The game of course did not finish quite the way I had envisioned. After cutting the lead to 35-28, the unthinkable happened when Carlos Hyde was stripped by a Michigan defender while fighting for extra yards. No one could believe it; especially not Hyde. Devin Gardner took the ball and converted off the turnover with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Jake Butt (The Butt of many jokes) to tie the game at 35.
I was certainly not surprised that Hyde redeemed himself on the very next drive. Not at all. He has been the best player for Ohio State ever since his emergence a season ago. Hyde's 226 yards on 27 carries were the most by any Buckeye back in the history of the rivalry and his 1-yard touchdown run gave Ohio State their final surge to the finish line, making the score 42-35.
The most surprising part of the day was a Buckeye defense that seemed to be no where near Michigan receivers all day. On the final drive, Devin Gardner had all day to throw and he hit open Wolverines all the way down the field. Bradley Roby was victimized against Devin Funchess for a 2-yard score to close the gap to 42-41. I thought back to a tweet I had read a moment earlier from former Michigan State running back Leveon Bell:
If Michigan scores, they have to go for 2...no way they can go to OT and beat Ohio St...college football livin upp to the hype so far today!— LeVeon Bell (@L_Bell26) November 30, 2013
I never would have thought Brady Hoke would have the intestinal fortitude to do it. The Wolverines were going for two and the season was starting to flash in front of every one in the tavern. We all held our breath as Devin Gardner dropped back to pass on the two-point play. As he let go of the ball, it sort of seemed to fly through the air in slow motion until we all realized… the pass never had a chance. Al Borges had called a wonderful game, but couldn't draw up something in the biggest play of their season. We all went berserk as Tyvis Powell intercepted the quick throw. Ohio State had survived and stretched their winning streak to 24 consecutive games. Two straight perfect regular seasons.
As everyone knows, this story was far from over. I rolled by luggage back to my stuffy room with the biggest smile on my face. I was excited about Ohio State's future prospects but also knew they probably needed some help. That's where the Auburn Tigers came in. The Iron Bowl was set for 3:30 and every Buckeye fan was ready to route for the War Eagle against the evil of Roll Tide and Nick Saban.
I sat down with my roommate who had also returned to Columbus a day early. Our hopes were not too high because we knew Auburn may have to pull another Prayer at Jordan-Hare to pull this one out. Amazingly, the Tigers showed great success on the ground early against Alabama's vaunted run defense. Nick Marshall's 45-yard touchdown run gave Auburn an early 7-0 lead.
The air went out of the sales a bit when Auburn tailback Tre Mason fumbled and led to an Alabama touchdown. A 21-7 'Bama lead looked almost insurmountable late in the first half. Somehow Auburn did not die. A Tre Mason touchdown to close out the first half followed by a 13-yard touchdown strike from Marshall to CJ Uzomah to begin the second half had the Tigers back in it.
AJ McCarron's strike to Amari Ingram went for more yards than Nick Marshall threw for all game, but Marshall made every single pass and play count. A third missed field goal from Alabama kicker Cade Foster and a stop on a fourth down run late kept Auburn alive once again. And once again, Marshall struck gold on possibly the most beautifully ugly play you will ever see to tie the game at 28 with 32 seconds left to play at Jordan-Hare.
As Alabama running back TJ Yeldon scampered out of bounds with no time left on the clock, I knew Nick Saban would lobby for that final second. I knew he would lobby for a final chance to drive a knife through the heart of Tiger and Buckeye fans everywhere. Would AJ McCarron rise up one more time to throw another big time strike to one of his talented receivers? No… He would not because his head coach out smarted himself this one time. Saban decided to throw out a FRESHMAN kicker for a 57-yard field goal on the final play of the game.
As a guy who also follows Chicago sports, I sat there and flashed back to a game where Devin Hester once made an amazing return against a slow New York Giants field goal team. I may have been the only one who was thinking about it but I never thought it would materialize. My roommate and I jumped for joy as one of the most amazing plays took form in front of our eyes. It was a play that will be discussed for the next century. They will be having reunions twenty years from now involving everyone on that team.
Buckeye fans, and even the players themselves, were rejoicing all night. The Buckeyes were locks to move right into the No. 2 position in the BCS and prime territory for playing for the national championship in January. Auburn and Ohio State fans will forever be linked because of that Saturday. From Toomer's Corner to Buckeye Grove you could hear the cheers for Chris Davis. And for Tigers and Buckeyes everywhere, this play will never ever get old.
#Auburn's Final Play in Iron Bowl: Chris Davis Return for TD (via Auburn Athletics)