It’s Finally Over
By Brandon Castel
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — For Michigan, Saturday’s 40-34 victory over Ohio State was the exuberant end to eight long years of suffering.
For the Buckeyes, it was simply the end.
They may go on to play in a bowl game against some team from the Mid American Conference or Conference USA—emphasis on may—but Saturday’s loss in Ann Arbor certainly felt like the end for this team, and possibly for interim head coach Luke Fickell.
“I told them I’m sorry for how it’s went, but we all handled this in the right way,” an emotional Fickell said after the game.
“It will make us all better. That’s what sports are about. You get knocked down, you get back up. We’ve got to learn a lot from it and we will.”
As Michigan fans celebrated their first victory over “Ohio” since 2003, the Buckeyes walked solemnly off the field at Michigan Stadium and up the ramp. There was part disbelief and part disappointment, but very little disregard from an Ohio State team that has been through a lot this season.
“Obviously it’s a tough situation. Tough for those guys. They saw the fight. That’s what this game is always about,” Fickell said.
“It’s not about talent. It’s about heart. It’s about will, and obviously we didn’t get the job done but you can’t walk away from those seniors and say they didn’t give it everything they had.”
This team did fight, all the way to the final whistle. Trailing 40-34 in the final minutes of the game, receiver DeVier Posey broke free down the sideline. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller spotted him and heaved it up for what looked, for a moment, like it might be the game-winning score.
“Honestly, I’m thinking this is over. That’s the game. Make the field goal,” Posey said.
“But we just missed it by a couple yards. I was trying to grind as hard as I could and pump my arms just to get there. I thought if I could get there I could make a diving catch, but I just couldn’t make it.”
That has been the story of the season for the Buckeyes. Always an hour late and a nickel short. Five of their six losses in 2011 have been by a touchdown or less.
“That’s just been the story of our season,” Posey said.
“Just taking shots and fighting back. I really feel like that’s what we tried to do. We’ve been in that position before and we just try to keep fighting.”
That started with quarterback Braxton Miller, who had a career day against the Wolverines. The freshman out of Wayne High School threw for 235 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his first trip to Ann Arbor. He also ran for 100 yards and another score, but it wasn’t quite good enough.
“We want to make sure those young guys understand they will be back here in two years, and don’t forget those feelings,” Fickell said.
After falling behind 10-0 each of the last three weeks, the Buckeyes came out passing in the regular-season finale against the Wolverines. They jumped ahead 7-0 in the fist quarter on a 54-yard touchdown pass from Miller to wideout Corey Brown, but Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson also had a big day.
The junior out of Florida racked up 337 yards of total offense, including 170 yards on the ground. His 41-yard touchdown run in the first quarter made it a 7-7 game, and his 26-yard pass to Junior Hemingway gave Michigan a 16-7 lead after one quarter.
It was their first lead since 2007, but it wouldn’t last long. The Buckeyes outscored Michigan 17-7 in the second quarter behind Miller’s 19-yard touchdown run and his 43-yard touchdown pass to Posey.
Miller also missed on a couple of deep tries to Posey that might have swung the game in favor of the Buckeyes, but it was hard to knock his performance against Ohio State’s archrivals. Especially in what was one of the most hostile road environments Miller faced all season.
“‘Five’ is a competitor,” Posey said.
“He’s going to play to the wire. That’s one thing I admire about that kid so much, at such a young age he’s such a fighter.”
Ohio State’s defense failed to get much pressure on Robinson and the Wolverines retook the lead in the second half on his 20-yard pass to Martavious Odoms. After the Buckeyes opted to punt on 4th-and-4 at the Michigan 38-yard line, they finally caught a break when punter Will Hagerup fumbled the snap.
He was tackled at the Michigan 32-yard line by Tyler Moeller, but the Buckeyes were forced to settle for a field goal after Miller set them up with a first-and-goal at the five-yard line.
Playing without senior Andrew Sweat, Ohio State’s defense was on the ropes. They had a number of banged up players, including Moeller, Ryan Shazier and Orhian Johnson, and the Wolverines drove down the field on their next possession for an easy score.
They went 75 yards in eight plays, with Robinson finding tight end Kevin Koger all alone in the back corner of the end zone on 3rd-and-1 from the four-yard line. It gave Michigan a 37-27 lead with 8:32 to play, but still Ohio State would not quit.
Miller led them down the field on the next drive, finding Jake Stoneburner, Jordan Hall and Reid Fragel on three straight passes. Tailback Boom Herron punched it into the end zone from four yards out and suddenly Ohio State was down only three with more than seen minutes to play.
It looked like Michigan would put the game away with a late touchdown, but scoring runs by Fitz Toussaint and Robinson were called back on penalties. The second one forced the Wolverines to settle for three points, and a 40-34 lead with 1:59 to play.
The door was still open and Miller nearly swung it wide with his pass down the sideline to Posey, but he couldn’t connect on the long-distance toss. He would pick up a 4th-and-six on the following play, but was immediately sacked on the ensuing play.
After spiking the ball on 3rd-and-6, Miller tried to squeeze it in to freshman Devin Smith on fourth down, but the ball popped up in the air where it was intercepted by Michigan corner Courtney Avery.
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