No. 9 Ohio State rallied from down nine in the final 7:49 – including an 88-yard touchdown march capped by Antonio Pittman's 3-yard touchdown run with 24 seconds left – to take a 25-21 win over No. 17 Michigan before 111,591 at Michigan Stadium in the 102nd rendition of The Game.
The Buckeyes (9-2, 7-1) clinched a share of their 30th Big Ten championship and also took their sixth straight win this season and fourth victory over Michigan (7-4, 5-3) in five years.
"We're partying on Michigan's field right now," OSU split end Santonio Holmes said moments after the game ended and the Buckeyes and their band had stormed the field. "That's all I can say. Our guys came in and fought to the end. We knew it would be a tough battle."
Holmes had caught a 26-yard touchdown pass with 6:40 left to start OSU's late comeback bid.
Quarterback Troy Smith powered that comeback. On the day, he completed 27 of 37 passes for 300 yards and one score. One year after riddling Michigan for 386 yards total offense in a 37-21 upset of the Wolverines in Columbus, Smith added 37 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
"It was another great game in the Big Ten," said Jim Tressel, who claimed his fourth win over Michigan and second Big Ten title. "It was another great Ohio State-Michigan game. We want to tip our hats to them for how hard they played. I told our guys in the locker room that they broke one of my truisms. We can't win this game if we turn it over. But our kids wanted this one so badly and they did everything they could to overcome that.
"Troy Smith, I thought, took over those last couple of drives to give us a chance. He gives you that will to win and that command of his teammates. We're awful proud of him and his teammates for protecting and catching."
After opening the season 3-2 and falling out of the national championship picture, the Buckeyes made quite a run through the rest of the season.
"We'll get our name and our picture up on the wall (at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center)," said Pittman, who added 85 yards on 23 carries. "It's a good way for us to send our seniors out."
Flanker Ted Ginn Jr. added a career-high nine catches for 89 yards. He had three of those catches on OSU's final touchdown drive, helping him to overcome a pair of fumbled punts earlier in the day. Holmes added six catches for 72 yards.
Penn State went on later in the day to defeat Michigan State 31-22 to clinch the other piece of the Big Ten championship. Because the Nittany Lions (10-1, 7-1) defeated Ohio State head to head, a 17-10 decision on Oct. 8 in State College, PSU gets the Big Ten's automatic berth to the Bowl Championship Series.
But OSU remains a strong possibility to snag a BCS at-large bid, likely to either the Fiesta or Orange Bowl. If the BCS does not select the Buckeyes, OSU is assured of nothing worse than the Capital One Bowl.
Tressel was asked if he considered his team BCS worthy: "Absolutely" was his one-word reply.
The coach praised his team for coming back – both for the season and in this game after a myriad of turnovers, penalties and miscues helped Michigan grab the lead.
"You put those things behind you because you have to attack the situation at hand," Tressel said.
It was a rough game that saw a number of players on each side go down with injuries. None were more damaging, though, than OSU's loss of linebacker Bobby Carpenter. He suffered a broken right fibula on the first play of the game.
"Losing a player like Bobby is tough," said linebacker A.J. Hawk. "We let him know we would do it for him. He helped us on the sideline and told us what he saw."
OSU led from its first possession until Michigan, capitalizing on a Smith fumble, scored on Kevin Grady's 2-yard touchdown run to go up 18-12 late in the third quarter. A Garrett Rivas 19-yard field goal pushed the UM lead to two scores at 21-12 with 7:49 left.
"We knew that nine was certainly striking distance," Tressel said. "The wind was pretty significant and we had it. We play until the end. We don't think we're ever done. That's just how we do it."
Smith directed a five-play, 67-yard scoring march capped by the touchdown to Holmes with 6:40 left to cut it to 21-19.
Then, he helped move the Buckeyes 88 yards in 12 plays – a drive reminiscent of Joe Germaine's heroics in the 1997 Rose Bowl win over Arizona State – to the winning score as the game was dwindling down. The key play was his 27-yard toss to Anthony Gonzalez, which gave the Buckeyes a first down at the Michigan 4 with 37 seconds left. That set the stage for Pittman's game winner moments later.
"You just have to keep plugging away," Smith said. "You have to understand that throughout a whole football game everything is not going to go your way. You have to believe in your coaching staff and believe in your teammates."
OSU outgained Michigan 418-255 in total offense. Michigan quarterback Chad Henne completed 25 of 36 passes for 223 yards and one touchdown. But Michigan could only muster 32 yards rushing on 24 attempts. Tailback Mike Hart had 15 yards on nine carries before leaving the game with an injury in the second half.
"I am very disappointed, there is no question about that," said UM coach Lloyd Carr. "I am not disappointed in the guys who played on this football team. I think they gave us everything they had. I think they played their hearts out today, but it just wasn't enough.
"Offensively, we did not hold the football. That, in some way or another, is going to make it very difficult to win."
Ohio State had the ball to open the game and moved 80 yards in a methodical 13 plays. The drive consumed 6:16 of clock time and Smith was masterful, connecting on five of his six passes for 61 of the yards. OSU overcame a 4-yard loss by Pittman on the first play and a holding penalty on tight end Andree Tyree during the possession.
On the drive, Smith hit Holmes for a 15-yard gain to convert a third-and-14 predicament. He then found Ginn for gains of 12 and 15 yards. On third-and-1 at the UM 21, Smith threw left to a wide open Roy Hall for an 11-yard gain and a first down at the 10. After Pittman went left for 6 yards on first down, Smith went right on the option, kept it and bounced off UM's Prescott Burgess at the goal line for the 4-yard touchdown.
Josh Huston missed the PAT kick, but OSU led 6-0 with 8:44 left in the first quarter.
Michigan tried to answer, moving 52 yards down to the OSU 28. But on fourth-and-1 there, Henne tried a slant pass to Avant. The pass went off his hands incomplete with OSU's Ashton Youboty in coverage.
The Buckeyes then went 42 yards in 11 plays to set up a 47-yard field goal by Huston. Smith hit on his first four pass attempts on this drive for 27 of the yards. But on third-and-9 at the UM 34, Smith threw toward tight end Marcel Frost. Frost made a nice one-hand grab, but only got 4 yards to the 40. Huston's kick split the uprights, putting OSU ahead 9-0 with 12:49 left in the first half.
OSU freshman tailback Maurice Wells entered the game to spell Pittman on the next series. But on the first play from the OSU 40, Wells was hit by UM's Pierre Woods and fumbled. UM's Gabe Watson recovered it at the OSU 41 with 8:43 left in the first half.
Michigan needed 10 plays to find the end zone for its first touchdown. Henne was 6 of 7 for 35 of the 41 yards on the drive. His third-down pass to Avant from the 5-yard line fell incomplete, but OSU's Youboty was penalized for pass interference after grabbing Avant before the ball arrived. Given a first down at the 2, Henne threw a perfect fade to Avant, who caught the ball over Youboty and got two feet down in the left corner of the end zone for the touchdown that cut the OSU lead to 9-7 with 5:18 left in the half.
OSU then mounted a 12-play, 72-yard drive, moving from its own 20 down to the Michigan 8. The key plays were Smith's 23-yard pass to Ginn and a 14-yard run by Pittman. But on third-and-6 from the UM 8, Smith threw incomplete to Anthony Gonzalez on the slant route. Huston's 25-yard field goal extended the OSU lead to 12-7 with 23 seconds left in the first half.
The turnover bug bit Ohio State again on its first second-half possession as Smith was hit by UM's LaMarr Woodley, who beat guard Rob Sims. The hit forced a fumble, which Alan Branch recovered at the OSU 31 with 12:20 left in the third quarter.
The OSU defense stiffened and, after a key delay of game penalty on Michigan on third-and-goal from the 5, Michigan settled for Garrett Rivas' 27-yard field goal. That cut the OSU lead to 12-10 with 10:01 left in the third quarter.
Ohio State control of the game began slipping away with mistakes on the kicking game. Ginn fumbled a punt and the ball skitted backwards to the OSU 13. Then, when the Buckeyes went three-and-out, punter A.J. Trapasso popped up a punt that rolled dead at the OSU 37.
Michigan needed four plays to find the end zone. Henne hit Breaston for gains of 9 and 11. Then, Henne threw incomplete toward Avant in the end zone, but OSU's Tyler Everett was flagged for pass interference. Then on first down from the 2, Michigan rushed from its huddle to the line of scrimmage and caught the OSU defense off-guard. UM's Kevin Grady scored the touchdown standing up on a 2-yard run.
Ahead 16-12, Michigan went for the two-point conversion. When Henne could not find an open receiver, he simply stepped up and ran the 3 yards himself for the two-point conversion and an 18-12 lead with 1:20 left.
OSU then drove from its own 26 to the Michigan 29. But on fourth-and-2 there, Tressel opted to go for a 46-yard field goal by Huston. He pushed the kick wide right with 12:02 left in the game.
Michigan, aided by a 38-yard pass from Henne to Manningham and a defensive holding penalty on Schlegel, then moved 69 yards down to the OSU 2. But the defense kept Henne out of the end zone on a third-down run from the 6 and Rivas' 19-yard field goal pushed the Michigan lead to 21-12 with 7:49 left in the game.
Ohio State seemed to be in trouble, but Smith would soon take over. After taking over on its own 33, Ohio State quickly moved into Michigan territory on a 27-yard pass from Smith to Gonzalez. After two incompletions, Smith kept the drive alive with a clutch 14-yard scramble on third-and-10. Smith then hit Santonio Holmes from 26 yards out for a touchdown, and a successful Huston PAT cut the lead to 21-19. Ohio State moved 67 yards on five plays in one minute and nine seconds on the drive.
"We had been running that play all game and we hadn't been able to hit it," said Holmes, who got open behind linebacker Prescott Burgess and in front of Brandent Englemon on the score. "We had a couple miscommunications with that play, but we hit it when we had to have it."
Ohio State was forced to kickoff from their own 20 after Holmes was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for diving into the end zone, and Michigan started with strong field position on their own 48 after Steve Breaston recovered a Will Paul fumble on the return. Michigan moved into OSU territory with an 11-yard Breaston catch, but the Buckeyes hit running back Kevin Grady for a loss on the next play. Ohio State declined a holding penalty on second down to force a third and long, and a Breaston 7-yard catch on the third down play would not be enough as Michigan elected to pooch punt with Rivas. The punt sailed out of bounds at the Ohio State 12-yard line with 4:17 left.
Smith then began a drive that will go down in Buckeye lore. A 9-yard pass to Ted Ginn and a dive by Antonio Pittman gave Ohio State a first down. After an incompletion, Smith hit Ginn for 11- and 6-yard gains and then Holmes for gains of 7 and 10. After Smith scrambled for 5 yards, a 7-yard completion to Santonio Holmes put Ohio State into field goal range at the UM 30.
The Buckeyes, however, would not settle for a field goal. On the following first down play, Smith escaped the Michigan rush and hit Gonzalez for a 26-yard gain down to the 4. Gonzalez, who was re-routed out of bounds, made the catch over UM's Grant Mason.
"That was a big play where Troy kind of stepped up and found him," Tressel said.
After a 1-yard run by Smith, Pittman punched it in from 3 yards out to give OSU a 25-21 lead with just 24 seconds left in the game. On the touchdown, Pittman bounced off Englemon at the 2 and ran in behind blocks from Tyree, guard T.J. Downing and fullback Stan White Jr.
Tressel said the Buckeyes weren't even trying to score a touchdown.
"We were trying to center the ball to kick the winning field goal and Pitt scores," he said.
A two-point conversion attempt failed when Smith's pass to Ginn was incomplete. Michigan began one last drive at their own 20 after a Huston touchback. Henne hit Jason Avant for a 22-yard gain to start the drive, but after catching Henne's next pass, tight end Tyler Ecker failed to get out of bounds, and the clock expired to seal the Buckeye win.
A raucous – and very rare – Ohio State celebration on the field at The Big House followed, capped by a stirring rendition of Carmen Ohio.
* Carpenter appeared on crutches with a walking boot on his right foot later in the game. Freshman James Laurinaitis replaced him in the lineup.
* OSU improved to 5-2 against ranked teams this year.
* OSU is now 36-3 under Tressel when leading at the half.
* Smith's touchdown was his 11th of the season. That is the fourth highest total for a quarterback in a single season. Les Horvath has the mark with 14 rushing TDs as a quarterback in 1944.
* Holmes' touchdown was his 10th of the season and 24th of his career. He is third on OSU's career touchdown receiving list. That play was also Smith's 14th touchdown pass of the year and 22nd of his career. He is also now 12-2 as the starting quarterback at OSU, including 2-0 against Michigan.
* Michigan still leads the all-time series 57-39-6, including 30-18-4 in Ann Arbor.
* Tressel joins Francis Schmidt as the only OSU coach to win four of his first five games against UM.
* The win Saturday upped Tressel's career mark to 184-70-2, including a 49-13 record at Ohio State. His record improved to 30-10 in Big Ten games, including 13-7 on the road in the conference.
His teams are also now 14-8 in road games and 21-7 against ranked teams.
Tressel's record at OSU against ranked teams on the road improved to 2-4. The other win came against Michigan in 2001.
* Michigan built its commanding lead in the series by going 13-0-2 in the first 15 meetings between 1897 and 1918.
But over the last 50 years, the series is dead even at 24-24-2.
* UM coach Lloyd Carr is now 6-5 against Ohio State.
* The Ohio State football team wore a special decal on its helmet at Saturday's Michigan game in honor of former Buckeye wrestler, Marine Corps Major Ray Mendoza, who was killed in action in Iraq earlier this week.
Mendoza, who graduated from Ohio State in 1995, is believed to be the first former Ohio State student-athlete to be killed in Iraq. He was a company commander with the 1st Marine Division and was in his third tour of duty in Iraq.
* The crowd was the fourth largest in Michigan Stadium history.