Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Chris Fields hadn’t caught a ball all year long. Not a single one.
In an Ohio State offense averaging 39 points a game, the redshirt junior wide receiver found himself reception-less and yard-less two-thirds into the Buckeyes’ 2012 campaign.
Cast in the shadow of younger receivers like sophomore Devin Smith and junior Corey “Philly” Brown, Fields, for all intents and purposes, had been a non-factor for an undefeated OSU team.
Until Saturday’s 29-22 overtime win against Purdue, at least.
And after making the biggest catch of his OSU football career, Fields said he’s used to throwing himself after the ball.
“I don’t know if anybody knows but 13 years of baseball paid off for that one. I used to be a center fielder,” Fields said with a wide smile. “I used to dive all over the place, so I’m used to it.”
Down 22-14 with 47 seconds to play, though, that opportunity appeared to be doubtful while the first loss of the Urban Meyer era in Columbus seemed like a sure thing.
After all, a typically explosive Buckeyes offense had managed to scrap together just two touchdowns points over the course of 59 minutes and 13 seconds.
Without sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller, who was carted off the field and taken to the Wexner Medical Center at the end of the third quarter, it appeared it would take a small miracle for OSU to eke out a victory against Purdue on the cloudy afternoon at Ohio Stadium.
In the Heisman candidate’s place was the man Fields calls his best friend, redshirt junior quarterback Kenny Guiton, who had already thrown an errant interception earlier in the fourth quarter.
Sportswriters were writing obituaries for the Buckeyes’ would-have-been perfect season. Hordes of frustrated, exasperated fans headed toward the exits after watching more than 59 minutes of incompetency from the home team.
For as shaky as OSU’s offense appeared, though, Fields’ play seemed to be just the opposite.
Coming into the contest against the Boilermakers, he had just 11 career-receptions to hang his hat on.
Including Saturday’s tilt, the Painesville, Ohio, native had only seen action in five games for the Buckeyes this season.
With eight seconds to play, Fields’ moment, as he called it, came.
Guiton had improbably driven a once-lifeless OSU offense down to the 2-yard line. “Kenny! Kenny!” chants reverberated off the cement stands of the 90-year-old Horseshoe.
The backup signal-caller rolled to his left and saw an open Fields matching his every step along the edge of the goal line – just the way it was drawn up.
“I had the like an arrow route, it’s kinda like a flat route and Kenny noticed man coverage,” he said.
Eight seconds had become four as Guiton zipped the ball to Fields. Its trajectory, while likely not intended, hurled it toward the red turf of the end zone.
In a diving effort, though, Fields pulled the pass into his gut and hugged the ball to the ground.
While the catch was immediately reviewed, Fields said there was never a doubt in his mind that he hadn’t made the grab.
“Yeah, I knew I caught it. I had it. No question,” he said.
Guiton, who Fields called his “brother from another mother,” said he felt the same.
“After that catch, I probably told him ‘thank you’ a million times. On the pass, I was just hoping he could get it, and when I saw his hands under it, I knew he caught it,” Guiton said.
Having not pulled in a reception all season, what could be a historic grab was Fields’ third and final catch as the junior managed to pull in two earlier receptions to help push the Buckeyes into the red zone early in the third quarter.
Arguably, it was Fields’ best day since arriving on campus in 2009.
“Chris Fields is a product of, I’d like to say, our program,” Meyer said during the Buckeyes’ postgame press conference. “That means three weeks ago, he wouldn’t have been on the field.”
Not anymore, though.
“He just changed his whole dynamics, the way he works, his practice habits and his performance,” Meyer said. “You can go out there and work all you want and not make plays. But he’s earned that right to be on the field. He was even playing before that, before Philly (Brown) went down, he was on the field, where three, four weeks ago he wasn’t on the field.
“It’s just that whole systematic approach that we have … very proud of him.”
The spring rumors that flooded message boards that Fields was leaving the team, now, seemed to be a foreign, distant memory. Even it just was for one day.
“The first couple games (leaving) did go through my mind,” Fields said. “Not so much of leaving, just so much of like my future, like after football. You know, I would never leave this university. I mean, this university, it’s so great. And I’d be dumb to leave this wonderful university. So, I mean, I just was thinking about some plans after football and stuff.”
For now, though, Fields might need to think more about the immediate future with a 5:30 p.m. contest at Penn State looming Saturday.
The catch, perhaps, could be the first of more to come from the receiver.
“It just means that you should start putting a package in for me and Kenny,” Fields said teasingly. “I just know that I just can’t, you know, fall down. I gotta keep on going up.”