The stakes are high more often than not during the annual showdown between Ohio State and Michigan. That was especially true Saturday, as the Buckeyes needed double overtime to win “The Game.”
Urban Meyer’s reaction summed up The Game beautifully.
Seconds after Curtis Samuel crossed the goal line to give Ohio State a 30-27 double-overtime victory over Michigan on Saturday, Meyer collapsed to the ground, face buried in the Ohio Stadium turf. Two others helped him to his feet.
Exhaustion, excitement and relief all shined through the rare smile Meyer cracked as he began his march to midfield and toward the College Football Playoff.
The ending fit a matchup pitting two bitter rivals fighting for a chance at another national championship. Ohio State and Michigan entered the much-anticipated contest ranked No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in the latest evaluation by the selection committee, but they might as well have been Nos. 2A and 2B.
Not since 2006, when the No. 1 Buckeyes beat the No. 2 Wolverines, 42-39, had they squared off so evenly matched. They were tied at 17 heading into the fourth quarter Saturday, and they remained deadlocked after 60 minutes.
Not even the first overtime was enough to break the tie. And inches decided The Game in the second OT, when J.T. Barrett barely converted a 4th-and-1 play from the 16-yard line that needed a video review to hold up the officials’ spot of the ball.
The Buckeyes averaged 4.0 yards per play. Michigan averaged 3.9. What’s far from even, though is Ohio State’s recent domination in the series. It now has beaten Michigan 12 of the last 13 meetings, including five straight since Meyer took over in Columbus.
But this victory took more. It took everything Meyer had in him. He waved his arms to amp up the crowd late in the fourth quarter. He wore his emotions in the open throughout The Game. And when Samuel crossed the goal line with the final touchdown, he couldn’t even remain standing to celebrate.
“It’s awesome. I’ve said that many, many times. I’m very humbled to be a part of it,” Meyer said. “And you can’t ask for better efforts. They have great players. We have great players. They’re a very well-coached team and so are we. And it’s good for the country to see the Big Ten in action like that.”
About the only thing vastly different Saturday were the atmospheres during the coaches’ postgame press conferences. Meyer shared a hug with his son before he left the field, then took a call from his wife during his presser, providing a light-hearted moment not so reflective of what just happened at The Horseshoe.
“She said bring a gallon of milk home,” Meyer said, eliciting laughs.
Things weren’t so cheery in the opposing media room, though. What seemed so even on the field looked blatantly different to Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. He didn’t feel the officials spotted the ball correctly on Barrett’s desperation lunge in the second overtime. He thought the refs gave Ohio State the benefit of the doubt on pass interference calls and non-calls.
“I’m bitterly disappointed in the officiating. I can’t make that anymore clear,” Harbaugh said, then held up his hands to indicate distance. “My view of the first down was that it was that short.”
And that minimal margin was about the only gap separating Ohio State and Michigan on Saturday. But that’s going to be enough in the eyes of the College Football Playoff committee. The Wolverines missed a chance to face Wisconsin in next week’s Big Ten championship game, and the committee in all likelihood will end their hopes of reaching the Playoff by dropping them out of the top four following Saturday’s defeat.
The Buckeyes are likely headed to their second Playoff under Meyer, who guided them to the national championship in the inaugural event two years ago.
Stakes, more often than not, are always high when Ohio State and Michigan meet annually in the regular-season finale. That was perfectly clear Saturday.
And that’s what makes The Game so great.