ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- With sixteen minutes left in the game, Michigan watched as tight end Jeff Heuerman waltzed into the endzone, giving the visiting Ohio State Buckeyes a 35-21 lead at Michigan Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Wolverines, coming into the game 7-4 on the season, could’ve packed it in. They could’ve given up. But this is arguably the greatest rivalry in all of sport. This is The Game.
A rifle from Devin Gardner to senior Drew Dileo cut the lead to 35-28, and a opportune takeaway on a fumble by Buckeyes’ running back Carlos Hyde set U-M up for yet another score that knotted the game with 5:01 remaining.
In the week leading up to today, you see, not many people gave them a chance. The pundits? They said OSU would run away with it. Many fans certainly thought the same. A struggling offense couldn’t seem to shake the poor play. A relatively stout U-M defense would face its toughest test of the year in attempting to contain Heisman Trophy contender Braxton Miller along with Hyde in the backfield.
Yet, even after a Hyde rumble across the goal line put the Wolverines’ backs against the wall yet again with 2:20 remaining in the game, they weren’t rattled.
Gardner continued his exceptionally gutsy performance on one healthy ankle, tossing for 451 yards and four touchdowns, which culminated in the final score of the ball game with a beautiful toss to Devin Funchess.
Down 42-41, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke congregated his seniors and asked what they wanted to do.
“I don’t think there was one guy that said no,” senior captain offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said. “Every single person said yes”.
As he sat in the postgame press conference, wide receiver Jeremy Gallon held his head high. He also had no regrets about the way the game ended. He had played his heart out. Despite his diminutive figure, he was still able to rack up 175 yards against the OSU defense.
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer called a timeout to set up his defense, and as the players walked out on the field at Michigan Stadium, the energy was palpable. The fans and sidelines were all waiting to see what would happen next.
On what Hoke described as a “rub route”, the Wolverines were unable to find the primary target Dileo in the endzone to take the lead.
Sure it wasn’t the outcome it was looking for, but U-M had nearly toppled the No. 3 Buckeyes as 17-point underdogs.
Truth be told, a 35-21 deficit really wasn’t much. After all, before the game had even kicked off, the players and coaches in that locker room felt as though they would get it done today.
“We talked about it on Monday,” Hoke said. “We needed to get it into the fourth quarter. The kids played awfully hard the entire day. In the fourth quarter, we played even better.”
Lewan, who admitted he wasn’t “all in” as a freshman or sophomore at Michigan, noted that the Maize & Blue finally holds a special place in his heart. He felt as though his squad had what it took to pull off the upset.
“I could care less if there were 110,000 Ohio State fans in there,” he said. “That team knew what we were going to do [today].”
Although 14 points seemed like a huge mountain to climb, unbeknownst to those watching, it was a feat that those on the home sidelines felt was more than attainable.
“It doesn’t matter what our record is,” he said. “Doesn’t matter what happened the past few years. This is the winningest program in the history of college football and that’s how it is. . .We’re Michigan. This is Michigan.”
So as the Buckeyes marched down for three unanswered touchdowns to turn a 21-14 Michigan lead into a 35-21 cushion, hope was not lost on the Michigan side.
“We are bred to fight,” Lewan said. “We will fight, claw, scratch, we’ll get knocked down. But we will keep going forward no matter what. That’s what this team is all about.”
They did just that and more – and while a loss is a loss – this was a story of resiliency and impressive bend-but-don’t-break persistence. A team that was written off by many simply wouldn’t go away. And that’s exactly how Lewan & Co. wanted to go out.