- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 14, 2003

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s pretty obvious that Lady Luck has a serious crush on the Buckeyes.

Third-ranked Ohio State survived yet another gut-twister at Ohio Stadium yesterday, edging No.24 N.C. State 44-38 in triple-overtime thanks to an upset-crippling goal-line stand.

“Sometimes it’s not a cliche to say it’s a game of inches. Today we were just a couple of inches better than they were,” said Ohio State senior free safety Will Allen after stopping N.C. State’s T.A. McLendon less than a foot from the goal line on the final play.

It seemed almost comically cruel that more than four hours of football should come down to that, particularly after the overtime aerial show provided by senior quarterbacks Philip Rivers and Craig Krenzel. The pair combined for eight touchdown tosses on the day while rolling up nearly 600 yards passing.

Ohio State’s Krenzel sparkled in the extra periods, bailing out a nonexistent running attack by working over N.C. State’s weary secondary. Krenzel, also easily the team’s leading rusher, finished the game 26 of 36 passing for 273 yards and four touchdowns. Three of those came in the overtimes — his final dart of the day finding wideout Michael Jenkins on a quick slant route to put the Buckeyes ahead by the final margin after the home half of the third overtime.

After Ohio State failed to make the mandatory two-point conversion after the second overtime period, Rivers and the Wolfpack (1-2) took the field 25 yards and a two-pointer away from victory.

Like Krenzel, Rivers was spectacular down the stretch. A dink-and-dunk expert with suspect arm strength but phenomenal poise, Rivers rallied N.C. State from a 24-7 deficit early in the fourth quarter, forcing overtime at 24-24 when a 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end T.J. Williams consummated a clutch, 86-yard drive ending with 21 seconds remaining in regulation.

The 6-foot-5, 236-pound Rivers then engineered a pair of overtime scores against the notoriously stingy Ohio State defense before stepping under center in the third extra period with both the game and his Heisman Trophy campaign on the line. Riding Rivers’ arm, the Wolfpack breezed to a first-and-goal at the Ohio State 4 before an odd change in offensive philosophy clouded their chances.

Rivers threw only once on the final series. a quick out on second down that fell incomplete. Instead, he and coach Chuck Amato chose to challenge the Buckeyes on the ground. Rivers gained three yards on a pair of quarterback sneaks, setting up the game’s deciding fourth-down call.

“We pretty much knew McLendon was going to get the ball because they went to him every time he was in there,” said Ohio State defensive end Will Smith.

McLendon had played somewhat sparingly due to a hamstring injury last week in a loss at Wake Forest. But just as Smith indicated, the ball usually went his way on the snaps he did play.

“It came down to putting the ball in T.A.’s hands,” said Rivers, who finished the game 36 of 52 for 315 yards passing and four touchdowns to become the ACC’s all-time leading passer (10,061 career yards). “I was hoping the defense would overrun it, and T.A. would cut back and maybe go airborne, but that’s one of the things our trainers said before the game that he couldn’t do. … It was the right play, and it was so close.”

So close, in fact, that the officials had to huddle over the call while 104,890 spectators held their breath and the two squads lobbied for their cause. When the call (which replays later confirmed was correct) finally came, Rivers collapsed to the turf. And the Buckeyes, who last week needed a 99-yard interception return to beat lowly San Diego State 16-13, celebrated yet another escape.

Though Ohio State has now won a national-best 17 straight games, a staggering eight of its last 10 victories have come by a touchdown or less. Let’s face it: They don’t call Ohio Stadium the Horseshoe for nothing.

From the fourth-down miracle last season at Purdue to a phantom pass interference call on Miami in the Fiesta Bowl to the last two weeks of wildness, outrageous good fortune has become the hallmark of the Jim Tressel era at Ohio State. It seems almost incomprehensible that one team could have so completely cornered the market on kismet. But even the dubious doings of suspended tailback Maurice Clarett, he of the sixth-month test drive, don’t seem to have clouded the Buckeyes’ karma.

Asked about his apparent deal with the devil, Tressel replied, “Our guys never stop playing. They never stop believing they have a chance.”

Despite Ohio State’s Houdini-esque run, N.C. State still exposed some major shortcomings for the defending national champs. Primary among those issues is a dreadful running game. Tailbacks Maurice Hall and Lydell Ross combined to gain three yards on 17 carries, proving again how crucial Clarett was to the squad’s offense. And with a Big Ten power rising in Ann Arbor, where the Buckeyes must travel for their traditional regular season-ending matchup, Ohio State has some serious strides to make before folks start talking repeat.

“There is no one who is going to walk out of Ohio Stadium today feeling like every thing is perfect and everything is wonderful,” said Tressel. “Sure, we have a lot of work to do. But I do feel good about how hard we play.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide