ANN ARBOR, Mich. — It seemed like it was going to be a normal play — a kickoff following a touchdown in arguably the biggest rivalry in sports.
But when Ohio State freshman running back Dontre Wilson fielded the Michigan (7-5, 3-5) kickoff at the goal line, what ensued might have been the result of bad blood between the two schools. Wilson was taken down at the OSU (12-0, 8-0) 16-yard line by two defenders, both of which laid on him a little longer than normal, prompting the 5-foot-10-inch freshman to shove back. Wilson was then surrounded by six Wolverines, invoking a fight between the two squads that saw many other players from both sides leave their respective benches to get involved.
Fists, flags and even Wilson’s helmet went flying during the scrum, and the end result was three ejections — Wilson, teammate and redshirt-senior offensive lineman Marcus Hall and sophomore Michigan linebacker Royce Jenkins-Stone.
“I’m disappointed with that,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said about the fight after OSU’s 42-41 win. “We had a little chat about that and that’s not acceptable.”
After learning of his disqualification from the game, Hall threw his helmet in disgust and showed both his middle fingers to the crowd as he walked into the tunnel to the locker room.
Many other players were involved in the fight, notably junior quarterback Braxton Miller, sophomore defensive lineman Noah Spence and junior cornerback Doran Grant. Miller’s entrance on the field prompted pursuit by redshirt-senior center Corey Linsley, who said after the game he partially blamed himself for Hall’s disqualification.
“At the time, it was just shock in and awe. I figured it was going to be another little scuffle that happens at an Ohio State-Michigan game. It escalated, obviously, and I saw Braxton run out there and I was like, ‘Man, I gotta go get that guy,’” Linsley said after the game. “That’s actually what started the whole pull, was me running out there. So I feel a little bit of responsibility from that, for Marcus getting ejected. He saw me run out there and I shouldn’t have done that no matter what.”
Hall issued an apology Sunday via his personal Twitter account, @bigmarc79.
“I would like to apologize to The Ohio State University, The University of Michigan, my teammates, my family, the fans and the TV viewing audience for my behavior during yesterday’s game. Wearing the scarlet and grey uniform is a privlege (sic) and an honor,” the tweet read. “I let my emotions get the best of me and didn’t conduct myself properly in the heat of the moment. My actions do not reflect who I am as a person and teammate. I love The Ohio State University and appreciate everything it has done for me. From the bottom of my heart, I am truly sorry and hope everyone can accept my sincere apology.”
Meyer said he isn’t worried about losing either Wilson or Hall’s services for the Big Ten Championship next Saturday against Michigan State. The Buckeye coach did say, however, that he would be providing punishment for Hall, who left the field by flashing two middle fingers to the crowd at Michigan Stadium.
“I’ll take care of that,” Meyer said. “Disappointed.”
Hall’s gestures blew up on social media, but losing him for the game was strange for some of his teammates.
“It was kind of surreal, because you never want to see a player get ejected,” senior left guard Andrew Norwell said after the game. “And it was one of our guys, so it was hard.”
Miller chuckled softly after the subject was brought up to him postgame, opening his response with a question of his own before giving a reason for his involvement.
“Why y’all bring that up man? Dang,” Miller said. “I seen little Dontre — he’s a little guy and I see he was getting mugged and pushed and I was just running out there to help him out as a leader.”
Was the fight a product of the pepped up emotions that come with such a large rivalry game? We’ve seen tempers flare in The Game before, and two instances in particular were pointed out by Linsley, who said such things “shouldn’t happen in any game” regardless of its magnitude.
“I guess it’s a consequence of the emotion, but both teams … we’re better than that. They’re better than that, we’re better than that. The thing is, the media, they advertise the fights,” Linsley said. “When (former OSU wide receiver) David Boston and that guy are punching each other, when (former OSU defensive back) Grant Schwartz and (former Michigan running back) Mike Hart get into that fight in the tunnel and we see it all the time. Really and truly, we’re a more disciplined team than that. They’re a more disciplined team than that. On both sides it was disappointing.”
OSU junior linebacker Ryan Shazier blamed the fight on each side being too excited up for the game, but said the fight itself happening was not exactly shocking.
“You don’t want anybody to fight but that’s a lot of emotions going on both sides,” Shazier said. “A lot of guys are really hyping and things just happen. When two guys are hyped and they meet, sometimes things happen. It’s not acceptable, but I’m not surprised that it happened.”
Hall was replaced by redshirt-freshman Pat Elflein, whom Linsley said is “going to be a heck of a player” for OSU in the near future. Elflein also blamed the intensity of the rivalry for the altercation.
“This is my first time being up here in (Michigan Stadium), but I’ve watched before and the rivalry’s so intense and it’s a great rivalry so I wasn’t really surprised,” Elflein said after the win. “I knew there was going to be some words exchanged but this is part of the rivalry.”
Regardless if it was a result of the ferocity, emotions or greatness of the rivalry that is OSU versus Michigan, the Buckeyes came out on top — which Linsley said was the most important thing even though his heart plummeted when his cohort, Hall, was kicked out of the game.
“We just hugged each other (after the game), he cried and we told him we did it for him and we truly did. That just tells you how close our whole offensive line is,” Linsley said. “Me and Jack (Mewhort) were talking after the game, Jack was like ‘my heart sunk’ and so did mine. It was surreal. I’ve never felt a surreal moment before like that in my life where it’s surreal from the standpoint of love.”
The No. 2 Buckeyes now turn their attention to what might be their biggest game of the season, as they are set to travel to Indianapolis to take on the No. 10 Michigan State Spartans (11-1, 8-0) at 8:17 p.m. Saturday.