The Thundering Herd nearly slayed another giant, mounting a furious second-half comeback only to lose on OSU kicker Mike Nugent's 55-yard field goal on the final play of the game, capping a 24-21 OSU win.
Nugent's line-drive kick never got much more than 20 feet off the ground and curled just inside the left upright, sending the Ohio Stadium crowd of 104,622 into a frenzy. The 55-yarder was a career-long kick for the All-American from two years ago.
"I don't think I won the game at all," Nugent said. "I just kind of did my job when I was called upon. I made my extra points and my field goal when I was called upon."
Marshall fed off four OSU turnovers in rallying to tie the game at 21-21 on a 23-yard pass from Stan Hill to Brad Bates with 8:40 left. The teams traded possessions with Marshall's Ian O'Connor even missing a 35-yard field goal with 3:17 left.
Finally, the Buckeyes got the ball back after a short Marshall punt at their own 45-yard line with 25 seconds left. OSU quarterback Justin Zwick shrugged off two second-half interceptions and completed three straight passes to put the Buckeyes in field goal range. He spiked the ball to stop the clock with a scant 2 seconds left.
That set the stage for Nugent's heroics.
"I thought the best part about the game today was the way Justin handled adversity and took them down the field," Nugent said. "That was unbelievable. I tell them if they can get down the field we will get at least three points out of it."
The game matched two of Division I-A college football's top 10 winningest teams over the last seven years. And, despite Marshall's 17-15 loss against Troy a week ago, the Thundering Herd came into the Horseshoe and gave the Buckeyes all they could handle.
"I was confident," Tressel said of Nugent. "We have put him in that position many times in kick scrimmages. He's a great kicker.
"That was a tight, hard fought game with two teams that really love the game and love to get after it. We said all along they're passionate about the game and they lost to a very good team, Troy, last week. They're not used to losing. They played like they're not used to losing."
Zwick ended up completing 18 of 30 passes for 318 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.His top receiver was Santonio Holmes, who had seven catches for 199 yards and two scores in the first half. Holmes missed the third quarter due to cramps before returning in the fourth. He finished with 10 catches for 218 yards.
Tailback Lydell Ross had 90 yards on 24 carries.
OSU lost senior cornerback and captain Dustin Fox to a broken left arm during the first half. The initial prognosis is he will miss three to four weeks.
"He will probably not be back before the middle of the Big Ten schedule," Tressel said. "He will be out for a while, which is a shame."
Marshall quarterback Stan Hill was 22 of 34 passing for 140 yards and a score. Tailback Earl Charles added 72 yards on 16 carries with a touchdown, while Ahmad Bradshaw had 17 carries for 77 yards.
"It was certainly a game we would have loved to have won," said Marshall coach Bob Pruett. "The difference in the ballgame was the two long passes early in the game when we had two blown coverages."
Marshall held the ball for 19:45 of the second half, running 42 plays to OSU's 24 in nearly pulling off the upset.
"They like to use three and four receivers and they do a little bit of running but not much," said OSU linebacker Bobby Carpenter, who led the Buckeyes with 13 tackles. "Late in the game, they put three tight ends in the game, one receiver and a running back and they just started running the ball at us. We had a hard time stopping them. They were getting 7 or 8 yards on first down."
OSU opened the scoring on its second possession, taking over on its own 20 after a Marshall punt went into the end zone for a touchback. On first down there, Zwick executed a play fake and went deep down the middle to Holmes. He got behind Marshall's Curtis Keyes, catching the ball at the Marshall 40 and rolling the rest of the way for the 80-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 9:52 left in the first quarter.
The play tied for the third-longest pass play in OSU history.
Marshall answered with a 12-play, 80-yard scoring march. Hill completed 7 of 9 passes on the drive. The Thundering Herd benefited from two OSU penalties, one for 12 men on the field and the other for holding on corner E.J. Underwood on an apparent third-down stop on the goal line. On first-and-goal from the 2, Charles made a good second-effort run and scored to even the game at 7-7 with 5:31 left in the first quarter.
Ohio State regained the lead late in the first quarter with a seven-play, 85-yard march. Zwick converted first downs with a 13-yard pass to Roy Hall and a 19-yard slant to Holmes. Finally, on second-and-10 from the Marshall 47, Zwick led Holmes perfectly as the flanker got behind Marshall's Willie Smith and made a fingertip grab at the Marshall 15. He rolled into the end zone for the touchdown and a 14-7 lead with 18 seconds left in the quarter.
Marshall evened the game at 14-14 late in the first half on a great individual play by defensive end Jonathan Goddard. Ross was stood up and Goddard simply reached in, ripped the ball out and raced the other way for a 27-yard touchdown return with 5:36 left in the half.
But OSU forged ahead before halftime on an eight-play, 80-yard scoring march. Zwick operated out of the spread with four or five wide receivers most of the way. He completed 5 of 6 passes on the possession for 74 yards. His 20-yard post pass to Roy Hall, who took the pass between defenders just outside the goal line, capped the drive and put the Buckeyes up 21-14 with 3:13 left in the half.
That score stood at halftime, but the OSU lead was threatened by a 17-play, 83-yard possession by Marshall that lasted 9:19 of clock time. It ended with a fake field goal on fourth-and-3 from the OSU 8. The holder flipped the ball to kicker Ian O'Connor. He was smacked in the backfield by defensive tackle David Patterson with 16 seconds left in the half.
The Buckeyes then went to work on the clock, driving 50 yards into Marshall territory. But the possession ended when Zwick found Holmes for a 2-yard gain – giving him 201 yards receiving on the day – but he was hit by Marshall's Dionte Wilson and fumbled with 12:04 left in the game.
The OSU defense rose to the occasion and forced a three-and-out, with linebacker Mike D'Andrea sacking Hill on third down. OSU was pinned back deep into its own end and that came into play moments later when Zwick threw an ill-advised interception to Marshall's Chris Royal on third-and-4 from the OSU 17. Royal returned it to the OSU 26 and, after a late hit penalty on OSU's Nick Mangold, the Thundering Herd were in business at the OSU 13 with 9:54 left.
The Buckeyes had Marshall stopped at the OSU 12 after a third-down run netted no gain. But the Buckeyes opted to accept a Marshall holding penalty to push the Herd back. On third-and-23 at the OSU 23, Hill dialed up Davis for the 23-yard TD to tie the game at 21-21 with 8:40 left.
Things went from bad to worse for OSU as, on its next offensive play, Zwick tried to go for broke again to Holmes. But Marshall had it covered as deep man Royal made the easy interception at the Marshall 41 with 8:33 left.
Hill then went to work, converting one third-down on a pass to Brad Bates before Underwood's second pass interference penalty of the day gave Marshall a first down at the OSU 33. Ahmad Bradshaw picked up a first down with a 4-yard run to the OSU 21 with 5:34 left.
But Hill was sacked by D'Andrea and Bobby Carpenter sacked Hill for a 3-yard loss on third-and-6 at the 17. O'Connor came on to attempt a 35-yard field goal from the right hash, but it sailed wide left. OSU took over on its own 20 with 3:17 left.
The Buckeyes could not manage a first down, though, as Zwick threw incomplete on first down. Ross was stopped for no gain on second and a third-down screen to Ross netted just 2 yards. Kyle Turano hit a 46-yard punt, giving Marshall possession on its own 31 with 1:36 left.
Marshall attempted three running plays with Bradshaw, but they netted minus-2 yards. OSU stopped the clock with its final timeout with 30 seconds left.
O'Connor hit a 26-yard punt off the side of his foot, giving the Buckeyes possession at their own 45 with 25 seconds left.
Zwick quickly hit Holmes for gains of 9 and 8 yards with his receiver getting out of bounds each time and giving OSU a first down at the Marshall 38 with 17 seconds left.
Zwick threw over the middle to tight end Ryan Hamby, who got down to the Marshall 32. OSU spiked the ball with 2 seconds left, but was penalized for an illegal shift. That moved the Buckeyes back to the 37, but the field goal unit came on. Turano, the holder, made a great play to get the ball down and Nugent hit the game winner.
"We seem to play a bunch of close games," said Hawk, who added 12 tackles. "We have great confidence as a team that our offense will move the ball when they need to and get into position, as they did tonight. Obviously, I'm sure it makes the fans nervous.
"But it is fun to be out there and win a game like that."
Defensive end and captain Simon Fraser talked about the final sequence.
"Everybody's jumping on Nuge and piling on," Fraser said. "It's just a huge rush and a great victory for us."
* Nugent's previous career-long kick was a 53-yarder against Iowa last year. He now has four kicks in excess of 50 yards. The kick also tied for the longest one in Ohio Stadium history. Dan Stultz made a 55-yarder against Indiana in 1997. It is also tied for second-longest in OSU history. (Tom Skladany made a 59-yarder at Illinois in 1975.)
* This was OSU's first win with points on the game's final play since Stultz made a field goal for a 24-21 win at Illinois in 2000.
* Holmes is the fourth OSU receiver to reach the 200-yard mark in a game. Terry Glenn's 253-yard showing at Pittsburgh in 1995 still stands as the OSU single-game mark.
* OSU is now 18-0 at home over the past two-plus seasons and 22-2 in three-plus years under Tressel. OSU's last home loss was in the 2001 home finale against Illinois. It is also OSU's 34th straight nonconference win, dating to a 1990 loss to USC.
* OSU has now won 28 of its last 30 games overall.
* The victory gives Ohio State wins in 13 of its last 14 games when the margin of victory is seven points or less.
* Marshall fell to 3-7 all-time in stadiums of BCS teams, including 0-2 against the Big Ten.
* OSU is now 19-1 all-time against MAC teams, although this was the closest win since the Buckeyes resumed playing MAC teams in 1992. The Buckeyes had won their last eight meetings with six different Ohio-based MAC teams by an average of 22 points per game.
* Ross' fumble, which was returned for a touchdown, became the first play in OSU history that was reviewed by instant replay. But replay conclusively showed that Goddard had ripped the ball out before Ross hit the ground. The Big Ten is experimenting with replay this season.
* OSU visits N.C. State next Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC regional telecast). The Wolfpack fell 44-38 in triple overtime in Columbus last year. They are 1-0 with an opening game win over Richmond last week. N.C. State was idle this week.
* Despite the nature of the win, Ohio State could move up in the polls. No. 7 Michigan dropped a 28-20 decision at Notre Dame. No. 5 Miami (Fla.) knocked off No. 6 Florida State 16-10 Friday night.