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Defense Dominates Spring Game
By John Porentas

A crowd of 75,301 was on hand on a sunny Saturday for the annual spring game in Ohio Stadium, a game that saw the Gray score 17 points in the fourth quarter for a 17-9 win.

What the game lacked in offensive fireworks was made up for by big plays by the defense and by the fact that members of the Ohio State men's basketball team were the acting coaches for the game and were actually calling the plays and defenses. According to OSU Head Coach Jim Tressel, a gaff by acting Scarlet Head Coach Mike Conley may have cost his team the game.

Trailing 10-9 in the fourth quarter, the Scarlet took possession on its own 20-yard line with just 3:52 to play. Quarterback Todd Boeckman drove his team to a first down at the Gray 14-yard line with 46 seconds remaining on the game clock. A field goal would have won the game, all the Scarlet had to do was run down the clock on third down and make the game-winning kick on fourth down. It didn't work out that way.

The Scarlet team had used up all its timeouts earlier in the quarter and could not get the clock stopped to communicate with the team on the field. In the confusion on the sideline, a pass play was sent in to Boeckman, and the play ended up a disaster. Gray linebacker Larry Grant hit Boeckman as he appeared to be beginning to throw. The ball came loose and was ruled a fumble. Grant scooped up the ball at the 20 and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown to seal the win.

The Scarlet argued that Boeckman had started his throwing motion and that the play should have been called an incomplete pass, but the officials on the field ruled the play a fumble and a touchdown.

"I don't really know what happened on the last play with the fumble," said OSU Head Coach Jim Tressel.

"I told Taber Johnson and Mike Conley they ought to ask for a replay. I couldn't believe they didn't replay it. Then the officials told me they didn't have the replay stuff in the booth," Tressel said.

In a lighthearted remark, Tressel laid the blame on Conley.

"The buck stops with the head coach. I assume it was Mike Conley," said Tressel when asked why a team would pass in that situation.

"The only reason you would make that call is because you had no timeouts. That would be the only reason. I don't know what the discussion was," Tressel said, who then got in a friendly hint to Conley regarding his future playing plans.

"The next time he coaches or maybe the next time in a big Big Ten basketball game he'll make sure we've got at least a 20 (20-second time out) left to at least calm down," Tressel said with a grin, obviously implying that Conley's next game should be in the Big Ten with Ohio State and not in the NBA.

Conley, who smiled throughout the entire press conference and like all his teammates appeared to have enjoyed the day immensely, defended himself.

"I didn't call the pass. I sent a run in, take some time off the clock and then kick the field goal. That's exactly what I said. I don't know what happened after that. Somehow the play got changed," Conley insisted.

It was evident that everyone involved, Conley, the rest of the OSU basketball team, and Tressel all enjoyed the involvement of the basketball team in the game.

"It was a lot of fun interacting with the basketball guys," said Tressel.

"They were just having a blast. I was texting back and forth with Thad (Matta), he's sitting down watching some basketball deal in Houston, and he was enjoying the fact that his guys were having fun. It was a great day," Tressel said.

While it was a great day for the fans and for the basketball team, it wasn't such a red-hot day for either offense. With a large group of offensive linemen out of the scrimmage with injuries running the ball was tough sledding at best and the pass protection left a whole lot to be desired. All three quarterbacks were pressured all day making it tough to throw the football.

The Scarlet defense definitely carried the day in the first half. The first score of the game came on the first possession of the game, but it was a defensive score, not an offensive one. Linebacker Marcus Freeman intercepted a pass thrown by redshirt freshman quarterback Antonio Henton and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown. The PAT, however, was blocked by defensive lineman Dexter Larimore and the score remained 6-0.

The Scarlet got on the board again early in the second quarter on a drive that was marked by the best single pass play of the day, a 40 yard completion from Todd Boeckman to Brian Robiske. Ryan Pretorius kicked a 37 yard field goal when the drive stalled at the 20-yard line.

Each offense spent time being its own worst enemy in the first half. For the Scarlet, Todd Boeckman had several passes dropped that were on the money, including a couple of deep balls that could have gone for long gainers. The Gray had bigger problems. Quarterback Antonio Henton was intercepted twice in the half. The first one led to the touchdown by Freeman. The second one didn't result in quite as much damage, but only because the Gray defense bailed out the offense. Henton was intercepted by safety Grant Schwartz who returned the football 40 yards to the 16-yard line. It was a golden opportunity for the Scarlet, but on the first play from scrimmage Grant sacked quarterback Robby Schoenhoft causing a fumble. Grant also recovered the ball to turn it back over to the Scarlet offense. The half then ended 9-0.

Schoenhoft nearly made up for his fumble in the third quarter when he directed a drive that began on his own 18-yard line to a fourth-and-goal at the four-yard line, but the drive ended without a score when a fourth-down pass from Schoenhoft to wide receiver Devon Lyons went incomplete. The big play on the drive as a 16-yard run by punter A. J. Trapasso on a fake punt. Trapasso circled left end on a fourth-and-11 from the 34-yard line on a play that carried to the 16.

After the turnover on downs at the four Henton, now playing for the Scarlet, was given the challenge of moving his team out of the shadow of their own goalpost. He moved his team to the 21, but defensive end Alex Barrow deflected a pass by Henton, then made the interception of the deflected ball after it popped into the air. The Gray was able to convert the turnover into three points when Rob Pettrey hit a 40-yard field goal following the interception to cut the lead to 9-3.

The Gray took the lead with the only offensive touchdown of the day. Schoenhoft guided the Gray on a 50-yard drive that ended with a six-yard touchdown pass from Schoenhoft to tight end Brandon Smith. Scarlet was unable to answer when the drive directed by Boeckman ended in the controversial fumble and recovery by Grant.

The Buckeyes entered spring football in search of a quarterback, and after the spring game, the search is still on. While all three quarterbacks had their moments, none has separated from the other three enough to a clear-cut number one. In the spring game, Henton displayed excellent running ability and elusiveness and a strong arm, but was prone to the big mistake in the way of interceptions and also sacks. Schoenhoft directed his team on a scoring drive, but was inconsistent, though he avoided interceptions. Boeckman was probably the most consistent passing and had he not had several balls dropped probably would have had decent numbers for the day, but he failed to direct a touchdown drive.

Coming into fall camp, the pecking order at quarterback was Boeckman, Schoenhoft and Henton. That does not appear to have changed over the spring.

"I'd say if we had a game to tomorrow that would probably be the order we put them in. I don't know that anyone lost any ground, that anyone took any steps backward. I think guys progressed," said Tressel.

Tressel ran down the pluses and minuses of his three quarterback candidates.

"I think when Todd has a real feel and a confidence for the field and really has a sense of where everyone is, he's very effective. Unfortunately, it isn't always that way and you have to sort that out, and he'll get better at that, and he'll get better at that.

"I think Robby has a little something about him, a little leadership thing about him that he loves to compete and he wants to be good. He's got a lot of ability to throw the football. He's got to gain a greater knowledge of what the guys in the other shirts are doing.

"Antonio I think when he looks good he looks good, and he errors, it hurts him. The thing about him is he'll learn from that. I think he has great grasp of what we're trying to do. I think he just needs to relax and do it."

Spring Game Quarterback Statistics:

Passing yards
Rushing Yards
Todd Boeckman
Robby Schoenhoft
Antonio Henton

The-Ozone coverage of the spring game will continue tomorrow with a position by position analysis by Tony Gerdeman and a Note and Quotebook.

Photo Coverage of the Spring Game by Jim Davidson.

Game Statistics

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