Rolle's Pick Caps Topsy-Turvy Stretch

A late 15-point lead for the Ohio State football team nearly evaporated Saturday afternoon during a crazy stretch of football that took the 105,000-plus fans in Ohio Stadium by surprise. Little did they know what was about to transpire. Brian Rolle's two-point conversion interception and return put the air back in the Horseshoe and cemented the Buckeyes' season-opening win.

For a stretch of time that spanned 4:09 on the game clock and seemingly eons for the opening-day record crowd of 105,092 in Ohio Stadium, Ohio State fans must have thought they were in Bizarro World.

During that time, Navy cut a 29-14 deficit to just two points and quieted all but the roaring midshipmen in full white dress that made the trip to sit in the northeast corner of the Horseshoe.

And yet, somehow that only prefaced the craziest thing that happened during the contest. Brian Rolle picked off the ensuing two-point conversion try and raced 100 yards down the field, bringing life back into the stadium and cementing what became a 31-27 win for the No. 6 Buckeyes.

As crazy as the stretch had to be to everyone watching, the weirdest part to Rolle was that Navy ran a play that looked quite familiar.

"We ran it maybe three, four times a day," he said of his team's prep for the Midshipmen. "We had seen it on film a lot. They were actually really successful, and I just was surprised that he actually threw it. I was like, ‘Wow, I can't believe it happened just like in practice.' I just thank God that we watched the film and I was able to make a play on it."

Given the stunning turn of events, it might not be that shocking to know that Rolle wasn't the only one to reference the heavens. As defensive lineman Thaddeus Gibson said, "Thank God for B-Rolle and that interception, because we'd probably still be playing right now."

Instead, the Buckeyes escaped 1-0 and won home opener No. 30 in a row.

On the other side, Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo answered with a simple "Yeah" when asked if his team had given the game away.

"We were coming here to win," he later added. "We had one goal. That was our whole goal for the last eight months. We were coming here to win. There wasn't anything else. We weren't coming up here to experience the atmosphere or any of that stuff. We were coming up here to win. That was the sole purpose. Our kids are down."

They were down, literally, on the scoreboard 29-14 when the tide started to turn. Ohio State faced a fourth-and-2 with 6:32 to go when head coach Jim Tressel chose to go for it. Tailback Dan Herron was stopped for just 1 yard, giving the ball back to the Mids at their own 15-yard line.

"As I look back, I certainly should have kicked a field goal on fourth-and-(2), which was a huge mistake in my mind, and of course we didn't make (the first down) and made it a bigger mistake," Tressel said.

Niumatalolo said he was stunned Tressel didn't try to make it a three-score game, but he had to be more surprised when his run-based attack needed just one play to go 85 yards. Slotback Marcus Curry slipped behind OSU safety Anderson Russell, hauled in Ricky Dobbs' pass and beat both Russell and Andre Amos to the corner pylon for a score that made the game 29-21.

Things got even more hairy when Emmett Merchant intercepted Terrelle Pryor on a tipped pass with 4:08 to go, giving Navy the ball at the 33-yard line. Just three plays later, Dobbs went right, saw his fullback take out Rolle, noted that safety Kurt Coleman was committed to the pitch man, cut up the middle and raced untouched into the end zone from 22 yards out to make it 29-27 with 2:23 to play.

In other words, it was gut-check time – except to Rolle.

"I thought there's no need to panic now," Rolle said. "This is when defenses show who they really are."

After a timeout, Navy came to the line and sent receiver Mike Schupp in motion from the right side of the field. To Rolle, that was the key that he knew what was coming.

"When the guy motioned in, I said to myself, ‘There it is,' " the junior Floridian said.

At the start of the play, he rotated to his right and stayed near the goal line in pass coverage. The thing is, that wasn't necessarily what he was supposed to do.

"I was supposed to blitz on the play," Rolle said. "I was more inside, and I knew what the play was. I didn't want to be out of position. (Linebackers) Coach (Luke Fickell) told me to blitz, but at the same time, he didn't roll out so that was my option to blitz or not. I just happened to be in the right spot."

As Dobbs fired the ball to Bobby Doyle, Rolle stepped in front and made the interception. For good measure, he hit his jets and outran Dobbs all the way down the right sideline for the extra two points.

"Once I got to the 40 I was telling my hamstrings, ‘We got to go,' " Rolle said. "It was exciting for me."

Reaction on each side to the play call – after all, Navy averaged just seven passes per game a year ago and had just 13 on Saturday – was varied.

"We have a couple of plays that we went back and forth on, but I'm not looking back," Niumatalolo said. "It was a decision."

"It really shocked us that they passed the ball," Amos said with a smile.

The resulting onside kick went out of bounds, and an 18-yard run by Herron sealed the deal and allowed the Buckeyes to run out the clock.

Soon after, the Navy coaches and players listened to "Navy Blue and Gold," the school's alma mater, and joined Ohio State's contingent for "Carmen Ohio." Once everyone had returned to earth, Tressel may have summed up the day thusly.

"We knew they would fight to the last play," he said. "and they did just that."

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