Just when the party looked like it would be ruined, several Ohio State seniors and a junior walk-on saved the day.
OSU blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead only to get sterling defensive efforts from several seniors in overtime and then a 39-yard field goal from junior walk-on kicker Devin Barclay to squeeze out a 27-24 victory over Iowa.
The contest, which featured the first overtime game in Ohio Stadium since 2003 and also served as the de facto Big Ten championship game, ended with the Buckeyes securing at least a share of their fifth straight league title and the program’s first Rose Bowl appearance in 13 years.
“This team has fought hard and stayed together and we’re very proud of these seniors,” said OSU head coach Jim Tressel. “These guys have never been to the Rose Bowl. I haven’t been there for 25 years. The Rose Bowl is about as good as it gets.”
The Buckeyes haven’t made an appearance in the Rose Bowl since New Year’s Day 1997 when they grabbed a last-second 20-17 win over Arizona State. Tressel last made a trip to Pasadena as a member of the Ohio State coaching staff that absorbed a 20-17 loss to USC in the 1985 game.
OSU seemingly had control of the Hawkeyes in the fourth quarter when tailback Brandon Saine broke off a 49-yard touchdown run to give the Buckeyes a 24-10 lead with 11:11 remaining in the game.
But the Hawkeyes responded immediately with a 99-yard kickoff return by Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, and then Iowa redshirt quarterback James Vandenberg hooked up with receiver Marvin McNutt for a 10-yard touchdown pass to tie the game with 2:42 remaining.
Then the Ohio State defense came to the rescue in the overtime. After surrendering more than 300 yards to the Hawkeyes in regulation, the defense forced Vandenberg into throwing the ball away on first down and then senior linebacker Austin Spitler threw running back Brandon Robinson for a 6-yard loss.
Then came the Buckeyes’ only sack of the game. Senior lineman Doug Worthington broke through the Iowa line and threw Vandenberg for a 10-yard loss that took the Hawkeyes out of field-goal range. Vandenberg’s desperation pass was picked off in the end zone by OSU safety Anderson Russell.
Ohio State didn’t do any better with its overtime possession as tailback Dan “Boom” Herron was tripped up for a 2-yard loss on first down. Herron got that yardage back on second down and then 2 more on third down before Barclay was called upon. The former professional soccer player’s end-over-end kick seemed to hang in the air for several seconds before floating over the crossbar and triggering a rush of the 105,455 fans to the Ohio Stadium turf.
“We did it, baby!” senior offensive lineman Jim Cordle shouted following the game as he poured a bottle of water over his own head. “We got five rings and we did it! We’re going to the Rose Bowl!”
The first half was a pitched battle between the two rivals. Iowa drew first blood with a 32-yard field goal from Daniel Murray at the 0:53 mark of the first quarter, a three-pointer matched by Barclay, who connected from 30 yards with 7:01 remaining in the second period.
Then the Buckeyes appeared to take command when Saine capped an eight-play, 74-yard drive with a 22-yard touchdown romp to give OSU a 10-3 advantage at the half.
Iowa moved into the red zone with the second half’s opening possession, but the Hawkeyes couldn’t punch it in despite a first-and-goal at the OSU 4 and then came away with nothing when Murray’s 22-yard field goal sailed wide right.
Undaunted, the Hawkeyes came back later in the third quarter when Vandenberg finished off a short drive with a 9-yard touchdown pass to McNutt. The six-play, 56-yard drive tied the score at 10 with 3:31 to play in the third.
That’s when the Buckeyes seemingly put a chokehold on the game. They moved 79 yards in 11 plays, getting an 11-yard touchdown run from Herron to take a 17-10 lead with 13:03 left in the game.
OSU linebacker Ross Homan then intercepted a Vandenberg pass to give his team the ball back, and Saine responded on the first play by bolting 49 yards for a touchdown. That gave Ohio State a 24-10 lead with 11:11 remaining and appeared to be the death blow to the Hawkeyes. But Iowa got off the mat when Johnson-Koulianos returned the ensuing kickoff to set up the fantastic finish.
Ohio State wound up with 322 total yards in the contest, the highest total by a Big Ten opponent against Iowa this season. The Buckeyes did most of their damage on the ground with 229 yards, more than any Iowa opponent this season. Saine ran for a game-high 103 yards and two touchdowns while Herron added 97 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 32 carries.
OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor added 29 yards on the ground while he was an efficient 14 for 17 in the passing department for 93 yards.
Vandenberg had an excellent game in his first career start in place of the injured Ricky Stanzi. The redshirt freshman completed 20 of 33 attempts for 233 yards and two TDs. He was also intercepted three times.
Robinson was his team’s leading rusher with 74 yards on 20 carries.
Defensively, Homan led the Buckeyes with eight tackles, including one for loss, and an interception. Cornerback Chimdi Chekwa added seven stops while Spitler had six, including two for loss. Worthington was in a group that had four tackles, and he had the Buckeyes’ lone sack of Vandenberg.
Next week’s contest with Michigan in Ann Arbor will be a 12 noon Eastern kickoff. The game will be broadcast using the ABC/ESPN reverse mirror effect.
The Buckeyes (9-2, 6-1) will be seeking their third outright Big Ten championship in the past three years while the Wolverines (5-6, 1-6), who were 45-24 losers to Wisconsin earlier in the day, need a victory over Ohio State to avoid having back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1962-63.