Rivers rallied 24th-ranked N.C. State from down 24-7 in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 24-24 with 21 seconds left and force the first-ever overtime game at Ohio Stadium.
But third-ranked Ohio State's unbeaten string stayed alive -- somehow -- after the Buckeyes prevailed 44-38 in three overtimes. Quarterback Craig Krenzel hit split end Michael Jenkins for the 7-yard go-ahead touchdown before the OSU defense stopped the Wolfpack on downs at the OSU 1. OSU‘s A.J. Hawk and Will Allen stopped N.C. State‘s T.A. McLendon just shy of the goal line on the final play.
In the final analysis, this one will go down as another of the great games in the history of the venerable Horseshoe.
"What a great football game to witness today," OSU coach Jim Tressel said. "Two teams went after it and just played their hearts out. It ends on the half-yard line. That was fitting for the effort given by both teams. We are extremely proud of both our players and coaches."
It was the latest bullet dodged by the Buckeyes (3-0). Their nation's best 17-game winning streak includes nine games won by a touchdown or less. Although the late-game heroics are starting to become old hat, they are anything but easy.
"It's not exactly fun, but I'll say I read a quote: `A man that lives without struggle really hasn't lived.' These games really do develop our character," said tight end Ben Hartsock, who hauled in a seven catches including a 10-yard touchdown in the first overtime. "A lot of guys have gone through this in season's past. Whenever we've had our backs up against the wall, we've been able to produce when we need to."
After a poor showing in last week's 16-13 win over San Diego State, Krenzel completed 26 of 36 passes for a career high 273 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. He also rushed 13 times for 37 yards and a touchdown.
"I felt a lot better this week," said Krenzel, who completed 10 of 12 passes for 70 yards and three touchdowns in the overtimes. "Offensively, we played well with the passing game. We made some plays. But we know we need to run the ball better."
Jenkins ended up with seven catches for 124 yards and two scores. OSU was held to 44 yards rushing on 32 attempts as the N.C. State stacked to stop the run. Tailback Maurice Hall netted just 2 yards on 13 attempts.
Penalties were once again an issue for OSU after it gave up 120 yards in penalties a week ago. OSU was flagged 14 times for 129 yards this week.
"That is a big concern," Tressel said. "Over the last two weeks, I've never seen so many penalties. We all 69 all year last year in 14 games. We've had 25 now between these last two games. Our guys are going to play aggressive, but we need to do a better job."
NCSU's Rivers enjoyed another big day, completing 36 of 52 passes for 316 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. During the course of the game, Rivers set new ACC records for career passing yards (10,062) and passes completed (839).
"What a great game," said NCSU coach Chuck Amato. "It hurts more to come out on the short end in such a close game of this magnitude. Nobody gave us a shot, but we came here to win and went up against the longest winning streak in the nation, in one of the biggest houses in the nation. I am so proud of our kids."
Rivers added, "Every play was a battle. We got into a rhythm in the second half, but Ohio State is a great team. We never quit fighting , even after it was 24-7."
Tramain Hall led the Wolfpack (1-2) with nine catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. Teammate Jerricho Cotchery was held to four grabs for 44 yards, but two of those were for scores.
Given a comfortable lead, the Buckeyes could not slam the door.
"We've got to keep playing hard," said OSU defensive end Will Smith. "We let up and everybody got complacent when we got up 24-7 in the fourth quarter. We had a fumble on a punt return and the defense was put in a situation it doesn't like. Their quarterback got in a groove as the game went on and we weren't getting as much pressure on him. He is a great quarterback. He stepped up and made a lot of plays."Ohio State opened the scoring, moving 70 yards on seven plays on its second possession. Krenzel completed an early third-and-7 predicament with a nifty 12-yard pass to Hartsock. Krenzel then converted a third-and-1 with a 2-yard keeper, giving OSU a first down at the NCSU 44. On first down there, Krenzel dropped, stepped up in the pocket and hit Jenkins in stride on a crossing route. Jenkins' defender was screened by then umpire, leaving him wide open.
The only suspense after the catch was whether OSU flanker Drew Carter could sustain his block on NCSU's Lamont Reid. Jenkins cut off that block and avoided a diving tackle attempt by NCSU's Andre Maddox at the goal line to complete the 44-yard touchdown and give OSU a 7-0 lead with 4:13 left in the first quarter.<./p>
Things went from bad to worse for N.C. State quickly as, on the ensuing kickoff, teammates Richard Washington and Tramain Hall collided trying to field the kick. The ball glanced off Washington's helmet, right to OSU's Will Allen, who fell on the ball at the NCSU 4-yard line.
"I was running down there hard and I saw the ball pop out," Allen said. "I should have scored with it."
The Wolfpack were penalized for being offsides on first down there, moving the ball to the 2. Lydell Ross was stopped for no gain on first down. But on second down, he powered into the end zone behind right guard Bryce Bishop, taking NCSU's Oliver Hoyte with him and putting the Buckeyes up 14-0 with 2:47 left in the first quarter.
OSU missed a big break early in the second quarter as Rivers was hit as he tried to throw and fumbled. The ball was batted backwards to the NCSU 33, where OSU's Dustin Fox tried to scoop it but was unable. Instead, NCSU's Sean Locklear beat OSU's Darrion Scott to the ball. But the Wolfpack were unable to capitalize on that break or on OSU turnovers on the Buckeyes' next two possessions.
Krenzel, facing a third-and-11 predicament on OSU's 27-yard line, tried to go deep down the sideline to Santonio Holmes. But NCSU's Reid made the easy interception at the OSU 37. Then, after OSU regained possession, Krenzel hit fullback Brandon Schnittker with a pass in the right flat. But NCSU corner Greg Golden stripped Schnittker of the ball and returned it to the OSU 29. But an N.C. State personal foul penalty backed the Wolfpack up to the OSU 44, and the OSU defense forced a punt to end the threat.
But Rivers and the NCSU offense got on track just before the half, using the two-minute offense to pick up a much-needed touchdown with just 18 seconds left before the half. N.C. State gained possession on its own 26-yard line after an OSU punt. The Wolfpack moved 74 yards in eight plays with Rivers hitting on all six of his passes for 62 yards, including five of them for 10 yards or more. His 2-yard gain third-and-1 at the OSU 24 gave NCSU a first down at the OSU 22 with 35 seconds left.
He then hit Cotchery in stride going left and out of bounds at the OSU 11 with 24 seconds left. Finally, he had plenty of time and stepped up and hit Cotchery on a slant in front of OSU's Chris Gamble for the 11-yard touchdown. The play cut the OSU lead to 14-7 with 18 seconds left in the half.
OSU had a chance to score before halftime after Ryan Hamby fair caught the ensuing kickoff at the OSU 35. But NCSU's Hoyte hit him after the play and was penalized, moving the ball to the 50 with 17 seconds left. Krenzel found Schnittker for an 8-yard gain on first down, but the Buckeyes could not get a timeout called until just 8 seconds remained. Then, even worse, Krenzel was sacked for a 3-yard loss back at the 45, pushing OSU out of field goal range. Krenzel's Hail Mary pass to the end zone on the final play was intercepted by NCSU's Greg Golden in the end zone.
N.C. State, benefiting by a pair of OSU pass interference penalties (one on Dustin Fox and the other on Nate Salley), moved from its own 13 to the OSU 33. But on first down there, Rivers was sacked for an 8-yard loss by OSU's Tim Anderson and Simon Fraser. Then, Rivers stepped up under pressure from Scott and tried to throw to Brian Clark in the left flat. But OSU linebacker A.J. Hawk cut in front of the receiver, picked off the pass at the OSU 37 and returned it 55 yards to the NCSU 8. Hawk tried to cut back at the end of the play, but Clark was able to drag him down and prevent the touchdown.
That was big because the OSU red zone offense could not reach the end zone. On first down, OSU was penalized for delay of game. Then, a pair of Krenzel designed runs netted 8 yards down to the 4. Finally, his pass to motion man Santonio Holmes in the left flat was off his hands incomplete. Mike Nugent's 22-yard field goal extended the OSU lead to 17-7 on the final play of the third quarter.
N.C. State's string of bad luck continued as, on second-and-12 from the NCSU 36, Rivers threw over the middle. OSU safety Brandon Mitchell tried to make a sliding interception bid, but the ball appeared to hit the ground. None of the officials made an immediate signal, however, and after a brief meeting they awarded the ball to OSU at the NCSU 42 with 14:05 left in the game.
The Buckeyes needed five plays to convert the turnover into points. On third-and-3 at the NCSU 35, Krenzel threw deep down the right sideline to Jenkins for a 29-yard gain. Jenkins, who made a great diving grab, got behind Golden to give OSU a first down at the 6. This time, the red zone offense came through. After Ross got no gain on first down, Krenzel went around left end for the 6-yard touchdown and a 24-7 lead with 11:25 left in the game.
The Wolfpack finally got a major break with 9:26 left in the game. OSU's Holmes appeared to be down after a punt return, but the officials ruled he fumbled. Cotchery recovered the loose ball at the OSU 17. After three plays netted 8 yards, NCSU eschewed the field goal and went for a first down. Instead, Rivers got the touchdown as he threw to a wide open Cotchery for the 9-yard score, cutting the gap to 24-14 with 8:26 left.
Things went from bad to worse for OSU moments later, though. A 30-yard run by Maurice Hall was negated by a holding penalty. Then, facing third-and-21 from the OSU 9, Krenzel put the ball up for Jenkins down the left sideline. But NCSU's A.J. Davis made the easy interception and returned it 17 yards to the OSU 12 with 6:41 left.
When three plays netted 5 yards, NCSU settled for Adam Kiker's 24-yard field goal, cutting the gap to 24-17 with 5:51 left.
N.C. State then forced an OSU punt and took over at its own 14 with 3:18 left. Rivers then masterfully guided the Wolfpack on an eight-play, 86-yard touchdown drive to tie the game. Again, he completed all six of his passes on the drive for a total of 91 yards. His 20-yard pass to Tramain Hall gave NCSU a first down at the OSU 5. Then, he drifted right before looking back left and spotting wide open T.J. Williams for the 5-yard touchdown. Williams shrugged off OSU's Fox and put the ball over the goal line to tie the game at 24-24 with 21 seconds left.
OSU got possession after a touchback on the kickoff, but elected to fall on the ball and go to overtime.
Asked if he gave any thought for trying to go for a field goal at the end of regulation, Tressel said, "No, not with 20 seconds left. We knew we were going to have a chance to line up and start at 0-0 on the 25-yard line. We were OK with that. We didn't want to make an error and put our defense on the field."
OSU got the ball to open the first overtime. Krenzel went to work, hitting Hartsock for an 11-yard gain on the first play. He then hit Carter for a 4-yard gain to the 10. He was then pressured and threw incomplete on second down. On third-and-6 from the 10, he stood in the pocket, stepped up and drilled a 10-yard touchdown pass to Hartsock. Mike Nugent's PAT kick put OSU up 31-24.
"That was the same play Michael Jenkins scored on early in the game," Hartsock said. "We bunched everybody up on the one side and then we all run in routes. We try to set a pick for Jenkins. We ran it two or three times and it worked. So that time they were ready for it. They had seen the formation and they knew it. I started running my route and Krenzel started scrambling. I rolled deep. I found an open spot in the back of the end zone and he found me."
Rivers then found T.A. McLendon for a 17-yard gain on N.C. State's first play of overtime. The ball was moved down to the OSU 4 after an OSU roughing the passer penalty. But the Wolfpack were penalized for a false start and Fraser and Scott sacked Rivers back at the OSU 17. But that did not faze Rivers. He fired a bullet between OSU defenders Salley and Mitchell to Hall for the 17-yard touchdown and, after Kiker's PAT, had tied the game at 31-31.
N.C. State got the ball first in the second overtime. OSU appeared to hold when Rivers' third-down pass from the 17 fell incomplete. But Fox was flagged for interfering with Clark at the 2. On first down there, McLendon followed a convey of blockers into the end zone for the 2-yard touchdown and a 38-31 lead.
OSU's possession came next and the Buckeyes needed a touchdown to force a third overtime. Krenzel found Jenkins for a 12-yard gain down to the 13. He then hit Carter for a 6-yard gain to the 7. Krenzel then took a quarterback draw down to the 2. On first-and-goal there, Krenzel hit tight end Ryan Hamby in the back of the end zone for the 2-yard touchdown. Nugent's PAT kick tied the game.
"That was a play we went over in practice," Hamby said. "It was a hurry-up play to the line. I just got lost in the back of the end zone and Krenzel found me."
OSU had the ball to open the third overtime, with the action shifted to the south end of the field. Krenzel converted a first down with a 7-yard pass to Hartsock. His 7-yard toss to Carter set up third-and-3 at the NCSU 7. Krenzel fired a slant pass to Jenkins, who absorbed a big hit and held on, for the 7-yard touchdown. By rule, OSU then had to go for a two-point conversion. But Krenzel‘s pass was tipped incomplete by Pat Thomas, leaving OSU up 44-38.
The Wolfpack then used an OSU offsides penalty to convert a first down at the OSU 14. Then a face mask penalty moved it to the 9. A holding penalty on Fox took it to the 4. Rivers kept for 2 yards on first down. His second down pass to Hall fell incomplete. On third down, Rivers tried to keep the ball but was stopped at the 1. That meant N.C. State had to score a touchdown. The Wolfpack called timeout to set up their do-or-die fourth down play, then OSU burned one to set up its defense.
McLendon took a pitch, but could not get the ball across the goal line, touching off a massive OSU celebration. Hawk and Allen tagged him, and McLendon‘s butt fell just shy of the goal line before he could put the ball across the goal line. The officials conferred briefly before determining McLendon had not scored. The replay showed they got that one right.
"It hit him straight ahead," Allen said. "I knew he didn't get in. I was happy it was over."
* OSU improved to 3-0 all-time in overtime games. Last year, OSU win 23-16 at Illinois in single OT, then claimed the national championship with a 31-24 double OT win over Miami (Fla.) in the Fiesta Bowl.
* Krenzel enjoyed his fourth 200-yard passing game of his career. His four TD passes were also a career high, besting the three he threw last year against San Jose State. The last OSU quarterback to have four in a game was Bobby Hoying against Notre Dame in 1995.
* Hawk's team-high 12 tackles were also a career high.
* The 38 points allowed by OSU tied the stadium record for a non-conference opponent. The last time it happened was when Washington defeated the Buckeyes 38-22 in 1966 in Columbus.
* The attendance of 104,890 was the sixth-largest in stadium history.
"What a great atmosphere," Amato commented afterwards. "The people up here in Columbus were so nice and gave us a great ovation when we walked off the field. It was great for our people to see that and the ACC to see that."
* This win extends OSU's nation's best winning streak to 17 games. It also matches the second longest winning streak in school history, which was first achieved over the 1915-17 seasons. The Buckeyes will now set their sights on matching the school's longest winning streak ever of 22 consecutive games, set over the 1967-69 seasons. The Buckeyes are on pace to tie that mark Oct. 25 at Indiana and shatter it potentially Nov. 1 at Penn State.
* This was the first meeting ever between Ohio State and N.C. State. It is part of a two-year contract that will send OSU to Raleigh next year (Sept. 18). That will mark OSU's first game ever at an ACC venue and first game ever in the state of North Carolina.
OSU is now 8-6 all-time against current ACC teams. Ohio State last faced an ACC team in the 1998 Sugar Bowl, falling to Florida State 31-14. OSU also dropped games to FSU in 1981 and ‘82 in Columbus. The Buckeyes lost to Clemson in the 1978 Gator Bowl. OSU is 3-1 all-time against Duke and North Carolina with all of those games in Columbus. OSU also defeated Virginia in 1933 in Columbus. After this meeting, the only ACC teams OSU still have not have faced are Maryland, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.
* This marks just the third time since the advent of The Associated Press poll in 1936 that OSU has hosted two ranked non-conference teams in the same season. It also happened in 1980 (beat Arizona State, lost to UCLA) and 1995 (beat Washington and Notre Dame).
* OSU has now won 34 straight non-conference home games, including seven straight against ranked non-conference opponents. Both strings date to a 1990 loss to then-No. 18 USC. Wins over ranked non-conference teams since then include No. 12 Washington (1993), the two games in 1995, No. 21 Missouri (1998), No. 14 UCLA (1999) and the Washington game earlier this year.