COLUMBUS: With 47 seconds left in the game, the Ohio State Buckeyes were besieged by a forest fire closing in from behind, hurricane winds dead ahead, the vortex of a tornado approaching from the left and the earth to their right shaken and split by an epic quake.
There was only one thing to do: Summon Kenny Guiton.
Until Saturday, there was no reason for Guiton to order a blue cape with a red “S” from the college bookstore. Far from it. He had the misfortune to matriculate at Ohio State at a time when both Terrelle Pryor and then Braxton Miller hogged the headlines at quarterback.
No matter. Guiton persisted. He was not without ability, and you just never know what’s around the next bend in the road. So with the Buckeyes trailing Purdue 22-14 and Guiton having thrown an interception in his team’s previous possession, the fourth-year junior got another chance — though nobody would have described it that way — with 47 seconds to play in the fourth quarter following a Boilermaker punt.
Sixty-one yawning yards stretched from the line of scrimmage to the Purdue end zone. The Buckeyes had no timeouts, and their wondrous first-string quarterback, Miller, was in the hospital (he was released about three hours later) with an apparent head injury after a hard tackle in the waning minutes of the third quarter.
Fans were already leaving Ohio Stadium when Guiton’s miracle drive began — and under the circumstances, you could hardly blame them. But on the first play from scrimmage, Guiton hit Devin Smith with a 39-yard pass to advance the ball to the Purdue 22. Eight more yards disappeared on a pass to Evan Spencer. Two plays later, Carlos Hyde ran for the first down, and Guiton spiked the ball with a mere 15 seconds to play and 11 more yards to cover.
Then came a crucial, but obvious pass-interference call on a throw to Spencer in the end zone, putting the ball at the 2-yard line. Guiton finished the drive with a pass to Chris Fields, who made a rolling catch barely across the goal line with three seconds left.
“After that catch, I must have thanked him a million times,” Guiton said.
But the Buckeyes still needed a two-point conversion. Guiton rolled right, looked left and tight end Jeff Heuerman was wide open.
Guiton had practiced the play often and knew it would work.
“It was over with,” he said. “You could take that one home.”
The overtime period was almost anticlimactic. After 47 seconds of doing everything right — which followed 59-plus minutes of doing virtually everything wrong — the Buckeyes weren’t going to blow it. So Hyde bulled 1 yard for the go-ahead touchdown, and the defense held Purdue to 5 yards on four plays to make the 29-22 win official.
You could see Guiton settle in after a shaky start.
“The people around me calmed me down and got me ready to go,” he said. “But this is what I play football for.”
Maybe what calmed Guiton the most were a few words from coach Urban Meyer after Guiton threw the interception that seemed to end Ohio State’s chances.
“He threw the pick and I grabbed him,” Meyer said. “I said ‘You’re going to win us a game.’ He looked right at me. I think he was down. I think that moment kind of picked him up. We have confidence in Kenny Guiton … He looked right back at me and said, ‘I gotchya coach.’ And how many times has he been in that position? How many times has anybody been in that situation?”
Guiton knew he wasn’t going to vault over Miller and become the Buckeyes’ starter, just like he knew he would play a secondary role when Pryor was calling signals. But he felt it was to his advantage to stick it out in Columbus.
“I don’t feel like that’s a big deal,” Guiton said. “There was never a time when I thought I would have to leave. The education, the football program, everything at Ohio State is top notch. I never felt discouraged. I knew I had talent; I just had to keep my head up.”
Meyer tried to explain how a seldom-used player can rise above his experience level and make heroic plays under extreme duress.
“It’s the same thing as a coach,” Meyer said. “He prepares. We call it competitive excellence, when you work so hard when your number is called. Because of so many reps, you can make a play.”
To put Guiton’s achievement in perspective, when a reporter asked him to name his shining moment before Saturday, he said, “Probably the spring [scrimmage] game.”
“It’s a tribute to that kid,” Meyer said. “He’s a special guy. I hate to say this, but even if he doesn’t complete that pass, that’s a special kid. He’s all Buckeye now.”
For Meyer, that’s as good as it can get.