The No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes took down the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines on Saturday in an unprecedented finish that is often only present in dreams.
Junior H-back Curtis Samuel took a handoff and ran to the left sideline where redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber and redshirt senior center Pat Elflein paved the way for the game-winning touchdown in OSU’s 30-27 double-overtime victory. In Weber’s first game in the rivalry and Elflein’s fifth, the two created one of the most memorable plays in the history of the rivalry.
“It’s ‘29 lead’ is the call, and Curtis scored,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said.
After that moment, Meyer coiled over and was on the ground. He was helped up by members of the staff and, well, he really doesn’t know who.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Curtis scored going to the left.”
When asked what happened immediately after the game, it was like Meyer was stuck in a loop where he could only remember the play that saved his season.
“Yeah, Curtis scored,” he said.
For years to come, Meyer won’t be the only one to remember that play. All 110,045 people in attendance — an Ohio Stadium record — will remember that play, either in reminiscing or in self-pity. Samuel became a player cemented in college football history as well as the ongoing tradition of the Scarlet and Gray against the Maize and Blue on the last week in November.
But it almost didn’t happen.
OSU salvaged a disastrous offensive day by riding its two biggest playmakers in overtime.
OSU began the first overtime with the ball and it took just an 18-yard gain from Samuel on the first play and a 7-yard gain from redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett on the next to put OSU in front for the first time since the second quarter.
When OSU got the ball in the second overtime, the Buckeyes were trailing by a field goal. Again, only Barrett and Samuel would touch the ball.
Barrett was sacked for 4 yards on 2nd-and-5 from the Michigan 20, OSU had a critical 3rd-and-9 in front of them. OSU kicker Tyler Durbin had missed two field goals already in the game, so confidence certainly wasn’t at an all-time high for the kicking game.
Barrett threw a swing pass to Samuel, who was trapped in the backfield and was going to be tackled for a loss. A couple dozen moves later, Samuel zigged and zagged from the right side of the field to the left for an 8-yard gain to set up a 4th-and-1 from the Michigan 16.
“I couldn’t even tell you how it happened,” Samuel said. “I got to go back and look at that one. I knew I had to make a play for my team and that just happened.”
Samuel put the Buckeyes well inside the range of Durbin, but Meyer had confidence in his offense even when down by three with the game on the line. Now, Meyer is known for his gutsy play calling, but the decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 when all OSU needed was a field goal was worthy of a concussion protocol to make sure Meyer was mentally in check to make the call. For him, it came down to an old adage.
“If you can’t get that far, you’re not a championship team,” Meyer said.
Barrett barely reached the line to gain and the call stood after a replay review that Meyer said made his heart stop. Without Samuel running rampant across the field, the chance for a win would’ve never happened.
On the next play, Samuel finished his improbable overtime with the game-winning score and Columbus was sent into a frenzy.
Dubbed as the team’s No. 1 playmaker from the beginning of the season, Samuel didn’t put up astronomical stats, but showed up when the game mattered.
“In crunch time and you need someone to make a play and your number is called and you make it, that’s a playmaker,” Elflein said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s throwing, blocking or running the ball, when it’s crunch time and you need someone to step up, that’s a playmaker.”
As soon as Samuel broke the goal line, Elflein and redshirt junior guard Billy Price were the first to hug him and were soon joined by the team.
“First off I got to say, I want to thank God. I gotta thank God,” Samuel said. “My team, we fought. It was a hard game … Without them, that wouldn’t have happened.”
Well, it did happen, and neither Samuel nor anyone else will soon forget the first overtime game in the history of the rivalry.