Midnight Madness in the Horseshoe

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Last updated: 10/30/2011 4:29 PM

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Football
Midnight Madness in the Horseshoe
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Braxton Miller could not make it to his teammates in time to sing “Carmen Ohio,” not with a sea of scarlet and gray filling the field around him following Ohio State’s 33-29 win over Wisconsin.

Fans flooded out of their seats, carried by the emotional tidal wave that had been building over the last 11 months.

They laughed. They cried. They sang and danced and yelled into the night.

They hugged perfect strangers and close friends. They gathered around their hero, giving hugs and high fives to the young freshman who had saved the season—and their hearts from one more dose of pain this fan base just could not endure.

Braxton Miller tries to make his way to the singing of "Carmen Ohio" through a sea of delirious fans.
Photo by Jim Davidson
   

Their pure, unadulterated joy floated up into the night sky like Miller’s game-winning touchdown pass, hanging in the midnight air at Ohio Stadium.

Both seemed like they would never come down, like they might just float away along with all of the torment and despair Ohio State has endured.

Miller’s pass did eventually return from orbit, and it landed in the arms of fellow freshman Devin Smith, who held on in the end zone as he was drilled by cornerback Marcus Cromartie.

“It took forever,” said Smith, who hauled in the game-winning 40-yard catch with 20 seconds on the clock. 

“It was up there for the longest time. I was like ‘hurry up and drop, hurry up and drop.’ When I caught it, I held it tight and I fell down with it.”

This was about revenge. It was about relief. It was about feeling something good after so much bad. Most of all, it was about this team and this group of guys who stayed together through it all.

“It’s just unbelievable,” senior Michael Brewster said.

“After everything we’ve been through, all the ups and downs, the ups and downs today, this is a group of guys who just aren’t going to stop fighting.”

It almost wasn’t good enough. It almost ended with another heartache.

Almost.

“It was amazing. It’s about time we caught a break because these guys have fought like hell for weeks,” Brewster said.

“Things haven’t been so great at times, but we haven’t given up. We got hit in the stomach at the end of the game, but we just kept fighting.”

Senior Boom Herron carried the Buckeyes with 160 yards on the ground in his second game of the season and Ohio State’s defense shut down Wisconsin’s vaunted rushing attack. They held the Badgers to just 89 yards on the ground as they forced Russell Wilson to prove his worth.

Much like they did at Nebraska, the Buckeyes built a two-score lead in the fourth quarter against a team that was heavily favored, at least by Ohio State’s standards.

For three quarters Wilson had Badger fans wishing for Scott Tolzien, but in the fourth quarter he found some magic against the Buckeyes defense, which had committed itself to stopping the run all night.

It started with Jordan Hall’s fumble.

Much like Miller’s fumble at Nebraska, Hall’s bobbled punt return at the end of the third quarter seemed to breathe new life into Wisconsin. After recovering the loose ball at the OSU 27-yard line, the Badgers quickly scored on a 1-yard touchdown run from Montee Ball.

The Buckeyes scored the first 10 points of the fourth quarter—including a 44-yard touchdown run by Miller—and it looked like the game was all but over.

That’s when things started to come unraveled.

Cornerback Bradley Roby gave up a touchdown on a 17-yard pass from Wilson to Jared Abbrederis with 3:48 to play in the fourth quarter. It cut Ohio State’s lead to 26-21. The Buckeyes were forced to punt and on the next drive Wilson found Abbrederis again on a 49-yard touchdown.

“It was kind of a miscommunication. There were two guys going vertical and someone was supposed to hang on one,” sophomore defensive back Christian Bryant said of Wisconsin’s go-ahead touchdown with 1:18 to play.

“(Wilson) was staring at No. 2 the whole time and I didn’t see No. 4 until the last second. By then it was too late.”

The emotion inside the Horseshoe was tangible. It felt like the final knockout punch for a fighter that was wobbling on the brink of a TKO. Only this team didn’t stay on the mat when everyone was counting them out.

“I’m so happy for these guys,” Head Coach Luke Fickell said.

“I mean, the way they fought, the way they continued to believe in each other. You know the ups and downs. We’ve learned a lot.”

Trailing 29-26 with just over a minute left, the Buckeyes knew they needed a spark. They got it from Jordan Hall, who atoned for his earlier fumble with a 42-yard kick return to give Ohio State the ball near midfield.

For a moment, it looked like Hall might score the game-winner himself. Instead, he left the real heroics to Braxton Miller. After Herron picked up a first down at the Wisconsin 40-yard line, Miller scrambled to his right.

He avoided a sack by Patrick Butrym and it looked like he might just run out of bounds. Then he spotted Smith standing all alone in the end zone.

After that it was all a blur.


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