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That moment when Ohio State denied Montee Ball history

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A fumble on the one yard line led to a memorable night in Madison.

Ohio State Buckeyes v Wisconsin Badgers Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Fumbles at the one by your running back: the most heartbreaking and gut-wrenching play in sports. With passing, a majority of the outcomes are negative; you could either have the pass fall incomplete or picked off, compared to the lone positive of having the pass completed.

Penalty kicks in soccer are just plain weird when you think about it – and they are basically a glorified guessing game. Blown saves in the bottom of the ninth are up there, but those situations normally have a tell-tell sign that everything is about to hit the fan.

Losing the ball at the one is one of those moments that gets burned into a fanbase’s memory. Earnest Byner lost the ball at the one during the 1987 AFC Championship Game, and that was consequently the x-factor that gifted the Denver Broncos a trip to the Super Bowl.

Fumbling at the one burns worse, not because of the event itself, but because it happens to the guy that you don’t expect to make the mistake.

This brings us to the next installment of ‘Meyer Moments’. The fumble by Wisconsin’s Montee Ball in 2012 at the 1-yard line was devastating for more reasons than one. Ball had a chance to snap the NCAA record for most career touchdowns while simultaneously squaring the game at 14-14.

Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisc. has never been a kind place for the Buckeyes. But on Nov. 17, 2012, the Scarlet and Gray escaped with a win in an instant classic with the Badgers.

Geoff Hammersley

How’d we get here?

Ohio State rolled into Madison with a 10-0 record and a rejuvenated team after a bye week. Also, the Buckeyes claimed a share of the Big Ten Leaders crown entering their contest with the Badgers. A win against Wisconsin would’ve given OSU an outright division title, but it wouldn’t mean much, as the Buckeyes were out of any postseason play.

Almost a month after the Kenny Guiton comeback win against Purdue, the Buckeyes won two more game before their highly anticipated trip to Camp Randall. In those two games post-Guiton, Braxton Miller, back from injury, ignited a Buckeye second half surge against Penn State en route to a 35-23 win on the road; then Miler led the Scarlet and Gray in a blowout of Illinois, 52-22, to claim the Illibuck Trophy once again.

For Wisconsin, their season seemed to be destined for the Big Ten championship. With Ohio State out of postseason with Penn State, the Badgers were in the driver seat to be the Legends representative. Sitting at a 7-3 overall record and a 4-2 record within the conference, Bret Bielema, now in his seventh year at the helm of the program, had found a way to keep the Badgers’ hopes alive for another Rose Bowl appearance.

A win against Ohio State would be the icing on the cake for Wisconsin, as the Badgers already secured their reservation to the Big Ten Championship Game by defeating Indiana the week before. If a win against the Buckeyes was icing, then the cherry on top would’ve been the fact that Bielema was undefeated on Senior Day (6-0).

An early lead

Set for a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff, this game was primed to end under the stadium lights. The weather would slowly get colder as the sun went to rest in the West, and the wind would be just a little bit nippier – both perfect conditions for November football.

Once the Wisconsin band high-stepped onto the field and finished their pre-game show, football was almost upon us. With the Buckeyes winning the coin toss and deferring, the Badgers got the ball first.

Cover Boy for a Record Day?: Ball graced the cover of the Wisconsin-Ohio State program, just a touchdown away from tying the record
Geoff Hammersley

The home team didn’t do much with the first possession, as two incompletions by Curt Phillips and a 6-yard rush by Montee Ball capped off an unfulfilling drive. The first Ohio State drive went a little better than Wisconsin’s. Using nine plays to march 48 yards, the Buckeyes were on the fringe of field goal range before putting the ball away. While the Scarlet and Gray didn’t get any points, downing their opening punt on the Wisconsin 1-yard was a fairly good consolation prize.

Both teams would take their second drive into enemy territory, but like the first, failed to get any points to materialize. After Wisconsin’s third drive stalled on their own 25, it was time to punt the ball again.

That turned out to be a bad thing for Wisconsin.

Corey Brown fielded the ball at the OSU 32, weaved around some defenders, and turned on the afterburners to the endzone. Just like that, the Buckeyes jumped up to a 7-0 lead – which would be the only score in the first quarter.

The second quarter didn’t start any better for the Badgers. After another drive that failed to materialize any points, the Badger defense came back on the field to stop the Buckeye offense which had begun to pick up steam. Miller had found his groove, and played a huge role on seven of the eight plays on Ohio State’s first series of the second quarter. The eighth play of the drive featured standout running back Carlos Hyde punching the ball into the endzone from 15 yards out.

Boom!

The Scarlet and Gray pulled away 14-0 early in the second quarter. However, there was some bad news: that would be the last points the Buckeyes would score in regulation.

The lead up

Following the Buckeyes’ second score of the afternoon, it was now or never time for the home team Badgers. Failing to cut the deficit would give Ohio State breathing room. Something we’ve seen in the Urban Meyer era: giving Ohio State any room to breath ends with the Buckeyes winning convincingly.

With Montee Ball in the back field, and a short distance away from tying the NCAA career touchdown milestone of 78, it was his time to shine. As soon as the Badgers got the ball back, Ball was going to be the workhorse. The first four plays of the drive featured Montee carrying the ball, and picking up a modest chunk of yardage.

Phillips tossed the ball to get the Badgers deep inside Ohio State territory, and then Montee punched his ticket to tie history from seven yards out.

At halftime, the Buckeyes 14-7 lead seemed as though it wouldn’t stand for long (spoiler note: it didn’t). Ball had been given the rock 18 times in the half, and reigned supreme with 112 yards. Getting roughly 6.2 yards per pop was exactly what the Badgers wanted – their star running back powering through a Buckeye rush defense that entered the game ranked No. 16 in the country, and only giving up about 108 yards per game.

Miller was 8-of-12 and passed for 78 yards. Throw in his 36 yards on the ground, and he’s responsible for over 34 of the Buckeyes first half yards.

However, the third quarter saw both stars get shut down. Only four drives took place in the third, which meant that it was run game central for 15 minutes. The Badgers ran the ball 14 times; the Buckeyes seven times. Neither could do much against the other’s defense.

To compound even more Badger problems, they couldn’t capitalize on opportunities. A missed field goal at the start of the fourth kept the Buckeyes up a touchdown. As time trickled off the clock, Ohio State’s goal was to just hang on. With seven minutes left in regulation and history in plain sight for Ball, the Badgers had to move down the field for the game tying score. Like their previous scoring drive, this series featured a Ball-heavy rushing attack.

The fumble

As the Badgers moved across midfield, then into the Buckeye redzone, and then onto the two, it seemed as if Ball was going to break the career rushing touchdown held by Travis Prentice. Poetic justice it could’ve been: a Miami (OH) player having his record broken by a Badger playing against an Ohio team. All that separated Ball from this record was a 4th-and-1 on the two.

On short yardage situations, Ball tends to leap forward; on goal line situations he has a tendency to reach the ball out on the leap, making himself prone to fumbles while trying to get the touchdown.

Ryan Shazier of the Buckeyes knew what Ball was going to do, and set out to stop him.

Ryan Shazier forces a Montee Ball fumble

So close, yet so far away.

History for Ball wouldn’t be broken on this day. But, the game was about to get even more interesting.

As Ohio State’s motive in the final 2:46 was to drain the clock, the Wisconsin defense forced a three-and-out, and salvaged a last ditch effort to tie the game. Not surprising, Ball played a minor role in the Badgers last drive. With the starting position at the Ohio State 41, Phillips took to the air to gain ground quickly. It took four completed pass plays to get there, but the Wiscy comeback was imminent.

With eight seconds left, Phillips hit Jared Abbrederis from five yards out for the game tying score.

Off to overtime at 14-14.

Between the Ball fumble and the Phillips TD in the final four minutes of the game, this is the most compelling of the ‘Meyer Moments’ from his first year. Unlike the milestone wins against Miami (OH) and Michigan State, and the comeback win against Purdue, the contest against Wisconsin didn’t have the Buckeyes in control of the game in the waning moments. This was uncharted territory for Ohio State: a close game, but they managed to pass up the lead with seconds to play rather than taking the lead.

Wisconsin was no Purdue. However, the way both games ended were identical. In overtime, the Buckeyes marched into the endzone – four rush plays between Hyde and Miller was all it took. On the rebuttal drive by the Badgers, Ball opened up with a six yard rush, but the rest of the offense went stagnant fast. An incomplete pass followed by a couple yard loss by Ball put the team in a 4th-and-6 position.

Oh Well: Ohio State landed the first senior day loss to the Bielema-era in Madison
Geoff Hammersley

Like in the Purdue game, the vaunted Buckeye defense put their opponent in a passing situation with the game on the line. Just like in the Purdue game, Wisconsin’s fourth down play in overtime was broken up. Christian Bryant defended the pass to Jacob Pedersen, and the Buckeyes escaped Camp Randall Stadium with a 21-14 win, and an undefeated record still intact at 11-0.

What was happening in the college football world?

• Leading up to The Game, Michigan was able win secure their eighth win of the season by defeating Iowa, 42-17. Wolverine quarterback Devin Gardner lobbed for three scores and 314 yards while Denard Robinson put up close to 100 yards on the ground.

• The No. 1 team in the nation, Oregon, was a crossbar away from going 11-0. In an overtime loss to Stanford, the game-changing moment occurred in the only overtime possession for the Ducks. A missed 41-yard field goal off the post led to Stanford getting the ball only needing a field goal to win. The Cardinal converted, and defeated the Ducks, 17-14.

• Oregon wasn’t the only top team to collapse. No. 2 Kansas State was stream rolled by Baylor, 52-24, in Waco, TX. Colin Klein, a future Heisman finalist, struggled against the Bears defense, throwing three interceptions.

• No. 3 Notre Dame cruised to a 38-0 victory against Wake Forest, placing them in the driver seat for a trip to the Orange Bowl for a National Championship.

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