Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said he expected his team to get Navy’s best shot in the 2009 season opener, but he probably didn’t know how right he was.
Thanks to a scrappy, opportunistic offensive effort that produced three scoring drives of 80 yards or more, the Midshipmen hung in with the No. 6-ranked Buckeyes until the final minutes before OSU finally pulled out a 31-27 victory.
Navy was on the verge of tying the game in the final two minutes when quarterback Ricky Dobbs sprinted up the middle for a 24-yard touchdown with 2:23 remaining. The Mids set up for a two-point conversion attempt, but when Dobbs tried to throw into triple coverage, the pass was intercepted near the goal line and returned 99 yards by OSU linebacker Brian Rolle. The four-point turnaround accounted for the final margin of victory.
“We have to tip our caps to the young men from the United States Naval Academy,” Tressel said. “We knew they would fight to the last play and they did just that.”
The Buckeyes appeared to have the game well in hand early. Sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor fired a 38-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher at the 12:37 mark of the first quarter for a quick 7-0 lead.
Navy came right back with a 15-play, 80-yard drive to tie the score, but it was all Ohio State for the remaining of the first half. Pryor scored on a 2-yard touchdown run with 9:01 remaining in the second quarter, a tally sandwiched by a pair of Aaron Pettrey field goals. The second came from 25 yards out and gave the Buckeyes a 20-7 lead heading into the locker room.
But the Midshipmen refused to quit. Dobbs threw a 16-yard TD pass to running back Marcus Curry to close the gap to 20-14 at the 1:24 mark of the third quarter before Ohio State pulled away again. Pettrey booted a 52-yard field goal early in the fourth period and that was followed by a 6-yard touchdown run by tailback Dan “Boom” Herron. That pushed the Buckeyes’ lead back up to 29-14 with 11:56 remaining and OSU seemed to have the game well in hand.
Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman appeared to deliver the dagger when he intercepted Dobbs on the ensuing possession, giving the Buckeyes the ball near midfield with 9:31 to go in the game. But the Buckeyes got only as far as the Navy 14 before Herron was stopped short on a fourth-and-2 at the 6:27 mark.
Tressel later second-guessed himself for not sending Pettrey back onto the field at that time.
“That would have (put us ahead) by three scores,” the OSU coach said. “Looking back, I would have probably kicked the field goal right there.”
On the very next play, the comeback-minded Mids caught the Ohio State secondary napping when Curry beat safety Anderson Russell in the middle of the field and turned the reception into an 85-yard touchdown play. That cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 29-21 with 6:15 remaining, and when Pryor pitched an interception on the fifth play of OSU’s next possession, the Midshipmen had another shot.
With possession at the Ohio State 33, Navy quickly moved into position before Dobbs faked a handoff and bolted up the middle for his 24-yard touchdown. Ohio State called timeout before the two-point conversion try, and when Dobbs tried to find a well-covered receiver in the end zone, Rolle came up with the game-saving interception and return.
The Buckeyes totaled 363 yards of offense in the contest but the Midshipmen accounted for 342. Pryor completed 14 of 21 passes for 174 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and he added 30 yards and a touchdown on six carries. His Navy counterpart, Dobbs, connected on 9 of his 13 pass attempts for 156 yards with two scores and one interception. He added a game-high 83 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.
Herron was the Buckeyes’ leading rusher, carrying 17 times for 72 yards and a touchdown. Fellow junior Brandon Saine added 53 yards on nine carries.
Seven different OSU receivers caught passes in the contest. Herron led the way with four receptions for 29 yards while tight end Jake Ballard had three catches for 51 yards. True freshman Duron Carter added three receptions for 21 yards.
Curry led all receivers in the game with 101 yards on just two catches, both of them touchdowns.
Ohio State (1-0) will host fourth-ranked USC next Saturday night. Kickoff is slated for shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern, and the game will be televised nationally by ESPN.