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Ohio State begins its second century of Ohio football supremacy

Quick trivia question: which Ohio football team was the last to beat the Buckeyes?

Vintage Football Program...
From the cover of a vintage Yeomen football program.
Photo by John Kanuit Photography/Sports Studio Photos/Getty Images

(If you’re still thinking about the answer to the trivia question above, stop reading now. The answer will be revealed very, very quickly.)

Last week at a party I ran into a friend that I hadn’t seen for a couple of years (pre-pandemic). We talked about what we had been up to, and I, of course, mentioned writing for LGHL and about Ohio State football. Then he hit me with the question above. I didn’t know, and he cheerfully told me that his alma mater, Oberlin College, was the last, as the Yeomen defeated the Buckeyes on Oct. 8, 1921, by a score of 7-6.

Since then, Ohio State has beaten every in-state school that it’s played. Curiously, there’s a gap dating from a 76-0 win over Western Reserve in 1934, until a 17-6 Buckeye victory over Bowling Green on Sept. 12, 1992, when the Bucks played nobody in-state. I wonder why?

Looking over the various series records introduces lots of oddities. Which among Ohio colleges and universities has OSU played most? The 17 games against Cincinnati? No. It’s the 29-game series against Ohio Wesleyan (OSU leads the series 26-2-1). That’s followed by 26 games against Oberlin and 23 each against Kenyon College and the Case Institute of Technology.

Only Western Reserve, among Ohio schools, holds a series edge against the Buckeyes: 6-5-1. And it will stand. Western Reserve and Case merged in 1967 to form Case Western Reserve.

I told my friend that I’d write this piece and let him know when it gets posted, so I’d better return to Oberlin. Yes, the Bucks hold the series lead – but not by much, 13-10-3.

The Ohio State – Oberlin series began in 1892, very soon after football was introduced at both schools. Oberlin began competing in 1891 and the Buckeyes just the year before that, when they beat Ohio Wesleyan 20-14 in May 1890 (apparently, football was played year-around), to launch their storied history. In the fall of that same year, however, the Bucks fell to the mighty College of Wooster, 64-0. To the Fighting Scots of Wooster: C.J. Stroud welcomes a rematch!

For the 1892 season, Oberlin hired John Heisman (yes, the Heisman for whom the trophy is named) as the football coach. Having been a star player at Penn, Heisman enrolled in some graduate courses at Oberlin and played in several of the Oberlin games. You were eligible if you were a student, and player-coaches were fairly common then, as there was a shortage of both.

In the series opener between the two schools, Oberlin trounced the Buckeyes 40-4 on Oct. 15. It wasn’t a fluke. Heisman’s “O” Men, as the team was called then, beat the Bucks again three weeks later (No. 7) 50-0. Interestingly, the enrollments at the two schools were about the same in the 1890s, and Oberlin was a midwest power that year, posting a perfect 7-0 record. In addition to the two wins over Ohio State, Oberlin also handled Michigan in 1892.

By the time that the 1920s rolled around, though, Ohio State was fast becoming a major university, while Oberlin was an academically respected college, with an outstanding music school. Their sizes were no longer equivalent. Nor, it was thought, were their football teams. The Bucks had beaten Oberlin, now called the “Yeomen,” 37-0 in 1920 and was heavily favored in the 1921 matchup to be played in Columbus.

The “Shoe” was under construction and would open in October the following year, so the Buckeyes and Yeomen faced off in old Ohio Stadium, in front of a crowd of about 10,000. The field was a mess after a day and night of heavy rains, and it was evident early on that this one would be a low-scoring affair.

But the Bucks broke through the Yeomen line to block a first-quarter punt, which was scooped up and carried into the end zone for an OSU touchdown. The extra point failed, and the Buckeyes led 6-0.

That’s how the score remained, as the teams exchanged punts until about midway through the third quarter when Oberlin put together a sustained drive — one that took them nearly 80 yards to the Ohio State seven-yard line. From there, Oberlin tailback Al Wheeler threw a pass (remember – John Heisman liked the forward pass) to W.E. Parkhill in the end zone to tie the score. Parkhill then kicked the PAT for the 7-6 lead. The Buckeyes couldn’t do anything. The Yeomen held. And Oberlin had the last in-state victory against the Buckeyes. It’s a win that figures pretty prominently on the Oberlin website.

So, yes, my friend, you have something to boast about. The record has stood a long time — over 100 years now. With the disparity in conferences, athletic budgets, and sheer talent, it seems unlikely that, in the near future, there would be any danger of the record falling – except, perhaps, to Cincinnati, which has emerged now as a legitimate power.

And though you were right about Oberlin’s 7-6 win, you failed to mention Oberlin’s participation in another Ohio State record. On Oct. 14, 1916, the Buckeyes beat the Oberlin eleven by the astonishing score of 128-0 — still the most lopsided score in OSU history.

Take that!