Punt Block Got Buckeyes Started

Ohio State opened the scoring in Friday's Fiesta Bowl as Harlen Jacobs blocked a Kansas State punt and John Hollins returned it for a touchdown. These two juniors enjoyed their first real moment in the sun afterwards and say they are looking forward to next year.

Once again, Jim Tressel's mantra that the punt is the most important play in football was proven true as Ohio State knocked off Kansas State 35-28 in Friday's Fiesta Bowl.

In a game where nine touchdowns were scored -- four each by the opposing offenses -- the most important one may have been the first as OSU's Harlen Jacobs blocked a K-State punt and John Hollins returned it 7 yards to stake the Buckeyes to a 7-0 lead with 6:41 left in the first quarter.

"I think any time you can have a big play in the punting game, you know, it's probably the difference," Tressel said after the win. "I suppose if you look at the game and really analyze it, it was a tie game except for that.

"We always say the special teams make the difference. That one certainly did give us some confidence and momentum, put a little pressure on them and put them behind the count. We've had good fortune to have excellent special teams. Our special teams have made a difference in many games."

Up until last night, Jacobs, a junior cornerback for Atlanta, was best known as the player who "also wears No. 13." But, with K-State punting from its own 17-yard line, Jacobs came around KSU's right end and smothered the punt by Jared Brite.

"We called `1-Block-Left' and I'm coming off our left side," Jacobs said. "They throw snipers over all the time. Most times teams, when you look at them on film, bring a guy over to block. But when we keep me over, we have an advantage with people coming off the side. I was just there to block it."

Jacobs was glad Hollins was able to finish the play.

"I was just out there to help the team any way I can," Jacobs said. "Blocking it was good enough. If somebody else scored, that was fine."

Jacobs believes that play set the tone for the game, as OSU never trailed.

"I think that was big," Jacobs said. "Coach tells us all the time that the special teams and the punt return team needs to make a play. That can make a difference in the game. We got the ball rolling by blocking a punt and scoring. That got everybody going."

Hollins, a junior split end from Huber Heights, Ohio, has also toiled in anonymity at Ohio State. In three years, injuries have limited his opportunities and he has just one career catch (last year against San Jose State).

Clearly, the return for a touchdown is the biggest play in Hollins' OSU career.

"I give all the glory to God and my teammates," Hollins said. "My teammate, Harlen Jacobs, he blocked the punt. My coach made a great call. They were in a bad part of the field. I was just in the right place at the right time. We practice it a lot. We work on blocking the punt and scooping and scoring."

Hollins said the win could serve as a springboard toward 2004.

"That's important," he said. "It sets the tone for next year. Unfortunately, we lost to Michigan. But we came out here and beat the Big 12 champs. They beat Oklahoma, who is playing for the national championship."

Hollins was considered a prized recruit out of Wayne High School, where he was an All-Ohio pick with 61 catches for 1,220 yards and 17 touchdowns. He redshirted in 2000 and was considered among OSU's top receivers the following year before suffering a knee injury in preseason practice. Michael Jenkins earned the split end spot that fall and never relinquished it.

But Hollins still has one more year remaining and wants to find his way into the rotation.

"That's what I'm working for," Hollins said. "We've got a lot of talent here at Ohio State. I just want to be able to contribute any way I can."

Hollins was asked if Drew Carter's story -- similar to his with injuries before emerging as a fifth-year senior -- would serve as an inspiration.

"Yes it is, because two years ago we were both injured at the same time," Hollins said. "Seeing Drew do so well this year just gives me the motivation to keep working hard."

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