A bunch of people asked me on Saturday, “Hey, who won that game last night?” Some of them just had a passing interest in what was going on (since neither Florida nor Florida State were playing) and others just went to bed before the game went into overtime. Either way, as sports fans, they missed a riveting, if not a well-played game. This game to determine a national champion had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows for both teams, collectively and individually. As a team, Miami felt the ecstasy of winning and the despair of losing within ten minutes of each other. Their kicker did what all kickers hope to do: kick the game winning/tying field goal on the last play of the game. Their star running back was beginning to dominate the game when in the flash of an eye; his season was over, his career in jeopardy. Ohio State had the same emotions as a team; going from thinking they had lost to knowing they had won, one right after the other. Their quarterback couldn’t do much in regulation, yet completed a 4th-and-14 pass to keep his team’s hope alive.
With the flurry of action at the end of regulation and in overtime, the focus on the interference call in the end zone and Willis McGahee’s injury, one play might get lost in the memory of this game, but it’s the play this game will be remembered for years from now. The Buckeyes were about to score a touchdown to go up 21-7 when Miami’s Sean Taylor intercepted the ball in the end zone and headed the other way. Instead of a two-touchdown lead, the game was about to be tied and thrown into a frenzy. As Taylor was headed down the sideline, Ohio State’s freshman running back Maurice Clarett caught him from behind, made the tackle and stole the ball all at the same time! The physical ability to make the play and the mental presence to execute it and change the outcome right on the spot is a rare combination for any athlete, let alone a true freshman playing in the national championship game. Clarett spent the week bashing the athletic department in Columbus for their lack of understanding, so his motivation was in question as the game approached. Even though Miami did a good job keeping him in check, that one play, and his subsequent touchdown run in overtime raised his profile equal to his hype.
It wasn’t a clean, well-played game, but rather the kind of game Ohio State hopes to be in every week. It was tough, it went down to the wire, it had all kinds of strategy and turnovers and it turned into a test of wills.
“They couldn’t match our talent,” Hurricane tight end Kellen Winslow said after the game, “But sometimes it takes more than that. I guess we learned that tonight.”
Many sports fans also learned a lesson: don’t go to bed too early.