ANN ARBOR, Mich.: Ohio State coach Urban Meyer called it an instant classic.
Backup quarterback Kenny Guiton told nickel cornerback Tyvis Powell he “prayed like 80 times.”
Junior tight end Jeff Heuerman said it was such a crazy ending “everyone’s heads are still spinning.”
Some thought the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry lacked drama as OSU dominated with nine victories in the past 11 years. Then on Saturday in Michigan Stadium, the Buckeyes and Wolverines delivered one of the most heart-pounding games in a series that dates back to 1897, a DVD-caliber show worth keeping even after the medium becomes extinct.
All it lacks is a name.
Powell, who cemented OSU’s 42-41 victory by intercepting Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner’s potential game-winning two-point conversion pass with 32 seconds remaining, needed time to digest what happened.
“When we were taking a shower, I was talking to Kenny, that’s when it clicked,” Powell said. “That was our season on the line – 12-0, the gold pants, chances for a national championship. It just hit me. I was like ‘Wow, I really kind of saved the season.’ It was all thanks to coach Coombs.”
Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs told Powell the play the Wolverines would run. Powell was supposed to get picked, but managed to avoid the receiver assigned to take him out and grabbed Gardner’s pass intended for senior receiver Drew Dileo.
“I had to tuck it, I couldn’t let it go, like the most prized possession,” Powell said of the ball, which teammates tried to take away in their euphoria.
In a sense it was the most prized possession for a team seeking its first national championship since 2002. Powell kept alive the nation’s longest winning streak at 24 games. The Buckeyes, third in the latest BCS rankings behind Alabama and Florida State, still need help to play for the title on Jan. 6. They got some hours later when No. 4 Auburn stunned the Crimson Tide 34-28.
Perfect in the Meyer era, they’ll risk that Saturday when they take on Michigan State (11-1, 8-0) in the Big Ten Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
But it wasn’t just Powell’s heroics that will make the game a topic of conversation for years. The Buckeyes almost blew it all in a game they were favored by 16.
The Wolverines (7-5, 3-5), who had managed 175 net yards or less in three of their past four games, shredded the Ohio State defense for 208 yards in the first quarter and finished with 603. Gardner threw for 451 yards and four touchdowns against a secondary that Meyer thought was improving.
Michigan wasn’t Michigan, at least the one OSU had seen lately.
“Man, it was a good game. They didn’t let up at all,” OSU junior quarterback Braxton Miller said.
“They kind of looked like a different team,” Buckeyes junior linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “They did what they had to do.”
The Buckeyes might have lost if not for their running game, which amassed 393 yards.
Senior running back Carlos Hyde rushed 27 times for 226 yards, the most by an OSU running back in a game against the Wolverines, surpassing 222 by Garfield High School graduate Beanie Wells in 2007. Miller contributed 153 yards on 16 carries and three touchdowns, including a 53-yarder.
The Buckeyes also played without starting left guard Marcus Hall and speedy freshman running back Dontre Wilson, ejected along with Michigan linebacker Royce Jenkins-Stone after a fight early in the second quarter.
After that incident, Shazier said it took the Buckeyes until the end of the quarter to start to calm down. During the break, Powell said injured safety Christian Bryant and Shazier spoke to the team, along with defensive line coach Mike Vrabel.
“It was very intense,” Powell said of what those leaders told them. ‘ “Stop trying to play outside yourself. Do what we’ve been coached to do. Do your job.’ ”
In that regard, the Buckeyes failed.
Meyer said the score wouldn’t fit those from “The 10-Year War” of Ohio State coach Woody Hayes and Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, but the intensity would have.
“Coach Schembechler and Coach Hayes would have looked out and seen two teams playing as hard as they possibly could, which is what this rivalry is all about,” Meyer said.
Defensive purists might regard the game with disdain. This version of OSU’s “Silver Bullets” is far from lethal. The 83 points scored were the second most in the history of the rivalry, surpassed only by Michigan’s 86-0 victory in 1902.
But late Saturday afternoon, that was set aside. A redshirt freshman from Bedford, Powell was already thinking about showing his grandchildren the interception replay. He was dissing fifth-year senior safety C.J. Barnett, who predicted all week he was “going to make a play, going to be on an HBO series.”
“After the game that’s what I was joking around with him about. ‘I’m going to be on an HBO series,’ ” Powell said.
“You’ve got to say to yourself, ‘This is why I came to college football, for major college games like this.’ ”
In that regard, Powell and the Buckeyes got what they wanted. All involved, at least on the OSU side, will cherish the game for the exciting finish, for the blows traded literally and figuratively, as the ultimate example of two resilient teams that refused to back down.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.