They say you can't win 'em all, and even though it seemed like Ohio State would always come out on top in close games, the Buckeyes couldn't pull out one more tight win tonight as 1-3 Northwestern stunned Ohio State, 33-27 in overtime.
Northwestern ended decades of futility against Ohio State, winning their first game over the Buckeyes since 1971. The win was also Northwestern's first win over Ohio State in Evanston since 1958. This was also OSU's first-ever overtime loss after the Buckeyes had won four times in extra periods over the last two years.
The Wildcats got the job done on offense, putting up 444 total yards. Quarterback Brett Basanez was 24 of 44 for 278 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs, while Buckeye quarterback Justin Zwick went 18 of 38 for 211 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Northwestern running back Noah Herron rushed for 113 yards on 33 carries and 2 touchdowns, while the Buckeyes as a team did not surpass 100 rushing yards.
The Buckeye offense in the first half lived up to the label bestowed upon them earlier in the week by Northwestern defensive lineman Luis Castillo -- they were mediocre. The opening Buckeye possession began with a sack and ended after three plays, and after taking over at their own 38-yard line after the punt, Northwestern moved down the field into OSU territory and took a 3-0 lead with a 41-yard Brian Huffman field goal.
Ohio State moved their next possession deep into Northwestern territory, but the Buckeyes stalled and had to settle for a 33-yard Mike Nugent field goal to tie the game, 3-3. Northwestern's Jeff Backes returned the following kickoff into OSU territory, but the Wildcats moved backwards after a handful of penalties and punted the ball back to Ohio State.
The Buckeyes were pinned back inside their own 10-yard line after an illegal block penalty and went three-and-out on their possession. Northwestern took over on their own 48-yard line and drove down the field in ten plays, capping off their drive with a 14-yard Brett Basanez touchdown pass to Noah Herron. The PAT gave Northwestern a 10-3 lead.
Ohio State got a boost on the following kickoff as Maurice Hall turned in a 42-yard return to give OSU the ball at the Northwestern 46, but they couldn't capitalize, and a three-and-out forced OSU to punt. Northwestern started on their own 9-yard line but quickly moved the ball down the field with 22- and 15-yard catches by Mark Philmore and a 12-yard run by Noah Herron, but OSU safety Nate Salley stopped the drive with an interception at the Northwestern 12-yard line.
Ohio State moved the ball 50 yards on 11 plays on the next drive, with 20 of the yards coming on a Santonio Holmes catch. The Buckeye drive stalled after crossing into Northwestern territory, and the Buckeyes punted the ball back to the Wildcats once again.
Momentum would finally shift in Ohio State's favor as after a Northwestern three-and-out, Santonio Holmes returned the punt 63 yards for the first Buckeye touchdown of the evening. Mike Nugent kicked the extra point to make it 10-10.
After Northwestern went three-and-out again on the next possession, Ohio State took over on their own 40 with a chance to score before halftime. However, a Justin Zwick fumble gave Northwestern the ball at the OSU 47, and after 12-yard catches by Ashton Aikens and Mark Philmore, Northwestern took a 13-10 halftime lead on a 40-yard Brian Huffman field goal as time expired.
Northwestern carried their momentum into the second half as on the opening drive of the third quarter, the Wildcats quickly marched down the field and scored as Basanez hit Philmore on a 27-yard screen pass. The PAT gave Northwestern a 20-10 lead.
Meanwhile, Ohio State continued to struggle on offense, failing to get a third down on their opening possession. The Wildcats also went three-and-out on their next possession, and then the Buckeyes got their biggest offensive play of the night as on a 3rd-and-12, Justin Zwick hit a leaping Roy Hall on a 49-yard bomb that gave OSU the ball in Northwestern territory. Soon after, the Buckeyes cut the lead to 20-17 after Lydell Ross ended the drive with a 2-yard touchdown dive.
Northwestern, however, answered on the very next drive as the Wildcats moved 12 plays in 80 yards and quickly made it 27-17 after Noah Herron took the ball in from one yard out.
The Buckeyes, now trailing by 10 points in the fourth quarter, began to make a comeback on the next drive. The Buckeyes began on their own 34 and gradually moved downfield inside the Northwestern 10-yard line. The Buckeyes had to settle to a field goal to make the lead 27-20, but on the following Northwestern possession, Bobby Carpenter intercepted a pass to give Ohio State the ball right back on the Northwestern 22.
Ohio State quickly moved down inside the 5-yard line when Zwick hit Bam Childress for a 14-yard gain. Shortly after though, Zwick was sacked for a 13-yard loss and then was intercepted at the goal line by defensive back Jeff Backes.
Northwestern was forced to punt on the following possession, and after taking over at their own 31-yard line, Ohio State quickly moved down field on five plays to tie the score 27-27 after a Santonio Holmes 22-yard TD catch.
Northwestern made an attempt at making a late scoring drive, but was forced to punt. The Buckeyes took over with less than 20 seconds left and after taking two downfield passing attempts, took a knee to take the game into overtime.
The overtime, uncharacteristically, did not go Ohio State's way. After a short run by Pittman and two incompletions, Mike Nugent missed a 40-yard field goal wide right, his second miss of the year. Northwestern took over and after a 19-yard run by Brett Basanez, Noah Herron scored the game-winning touchdown, giving the Wildcats the 33-27 win.
After the game, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel seemed frustrated with the overall Ohio State performance.
"You can't come on the road against a team that's doing a lot of good things and only do some good things and expect to win," Tressel said. "I thought they had a good plan. They hurt us with the screen."
Northwestern's defensive performance was a bit of a surprise. Tressel said that even though the Wildcats did not do anything that was much of a surprise, it was the execution that mattered.
"I thought they came up with some good pressure-type packages," he said. "Again, they had a good plan and they executed."
The OSU running game once again sputtered as Antonio Pittman and Lydell Ross could only muster 32 and 31 yards, respectively.
"Where our running game needs to be is better, just like our pass protection at times and playing against the screen," Tressel said.
Several aspects of the loss were uncharacteristic of the Buckeyes, including Mike Nugent's missed field goal.
"No one feels worse than he does," Tressel said. "They ended up scoring a touchdown anyway, so I guess it was irrelevant. That was just part of what we weren't perfect at."
Tressel also felt that the team did not handle the transition between the tough road win at NC State and this road game very well.
"We obviously didn't handle that well and progress and get better," Tressel said. "That's our fault. That's the coaches' fault."
The next step is bouncing back from this loss. Tressel discussed after the game what needs to be done.
"I'm sure as we evaluate ourselves, we're going to know that we needed to do a lot of things better on defense, offense obviously and special teams," he said. "It's easy to build on wins. Are you willing to build on ones that aren't wins?
"I think we've got people of good competitive spirit and character and willingness to look in the mirror. I'm confident in this group."
Northwestern fans, coaches and players were in a celebratory state after the game. Head coach Randy Walker was elated and relieved at the victory.
"Thirtry-three years is long enough," Walker said. "It's good to put that behind us."