Ball and Thomas Proved Momentum Carriers

In the 98th Rose Bowl game that saw five lead changes, running backs Montee Ball and De'Anthony Thomas proved to be the momentum-carriers, lifting their teams at critical times during the high-scoring affair.

PASADENA, Calif. – Between the disco-balls atop the heads of Oregon players to the electric offensive affair that was the 2012 Rose Bowl, there seemed an endless stream of light Monday. But two performances in the Ducks' De'Anthony Thomas and Badgers' Montee Ball somehow gleamed the brightest of all.

There was an incredible supporting cast for both teams in Oregon receiver Lavasier Tuinei and Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson, but Thomas and Ball kept these two teams in a track meet to become the highest scoring Rose Bowl in the game's 98-year history.

While neither Thomas nor Ball took home the game's Most Valuable Player, both players had unspeakable value to each team. These ball-carriers were the momentum carriers in a game that saw five lead changes.

Ball set the tone with 122 rushing yards in the first half. It was his ninth 100-yard rushing game and 15th of his career.

But more important than any individual record, Ball made his impact on college football in what could be his last football game for the Badgers. His three-yard touchdown run in the second quarter tied the NCAA record for most touchdowns in a single-season, set by Barry Sanders in 1988.

"It's been an honor since day one when I was being mentioned with [Sanders] and it will stick that way," Ball said.

What won't stick is how Ducks' true freshman Thomas can be that fast, that skilled, at that age.

Anybody watching Thomas on film might think they hit the fast-forward button. He's impossible to prepare for and it was evident Monday. On two carries, the Los Angeles native scored two touchdowns.

"I don't know that I've ever had a kid average 77 yards a carry," Ducks head coach Chip Kelly said. "I'll see if next year we can get him an extra carry or two."

On one of those scores, he had a 91-yard run, the longest in a Rose Bowl game.

Like Ball, Thomas remained humble.

"Just being a part of [this offense] and being coached by some unbelievable coaches is great," he said. "I just can't wait until the off-season next year to work hard again and just be there and be a leader for my team."

When Wisconsin needed Ball, he was there. He led the team down the field, spinning and hurdling for any yardage he could gain. Reporters joked that there should be a Doak Walker Award recount.

"He prepares and puts himself in a frame of mind going into every game this year as good as anybody I've ever been around," Badgers head coach Bret Bielema said. "He's truly a blessed individual with a lot of athleticism."

Another blessed individual? Thomas.

As Wisconsin held the lead for the game's first three quarters, Thomas didn't just hand it back to his team, he handed the Ducks their lifeline. His 64-yard run (a drive that lasted a lengthy 43 seconds) at the start of the third quarter gave Oregon another gear, and an ensuing confidence.

While Wisconsin immediately answered back with some solid defense, a defensive shutout by the Ducks in the game's final minutes lifted them to victory and gave them their first Rose Bowl win since 1917.

Hyped as a battle of running backs, Ball, Thomas and LaMichael James all played better than expectations. But it was a game that could have gone either way because of a total team effort from both sides.

Still, that extra push -- that little nudge that kept this high-scoring affair so close -- was made possible by two players.

Without the electricity brought by Ball's craftiness and Thomas' speed, this game wouldn't have had quite the sizzle it did.

And it might not have shattered all those records, either.

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