BY JOHN ERARDI
The Cincinnati Enquirer
COLUMBUS - Four minutes from the end of the game Saturday, Ohio State coach John Cooper took off his headphones and exhorted the 94,339 fans to get even louder, which of course they did.
Happy Ohio State fans pat John Cooper on the head.
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A tiny smile creased Cooper's face, and his eyes sparkled.
In that brief moment, three straight years of frustration - and a decade of mostly difficulty with Michigan - evaporated.
On this crisp Saturday afternoon, 10,000 fans reprised what had been Cooper's sweetest moment in Columbus, a swarming of the field by the students in 1994, the last time OSU beat Michigan.
"I was crying my eyes out," Ohio State offensive guard Rob Murphy said. "I waited until the final seconds. I didn't want the defense to see me cry. I was so happy for Coach Cooper and the seniors."
These seniors were freshmen being red-shirted in 1994.
They had never personally tasted of a Michigan victory.
History will forget that one play after Cooper's reverie Saturday - a long pass play by Michigan - the coach quickly re-donned his headgear. It was strictly out of reflex.
There was no way Michigan was going to catch the Buckeyes.
And really, there never was, as soon as the game plan was issued to the players early in the week. It called for taking advantage of OSU's stunning ability to advance the ball downfield with the accurate arm of quarterback Joe Germaine and the talented hands of receivers David Boston and Dee Miller, with occasional runs by Michael Wiley and Joe Montgomery.
Michael Wiley outruns Michigan defenders on a 53-yard TD dash.
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With all respect to Woody and Bo, an OSU-Michigan game had never been like this: 841 yards of total offense, 705 of it through the air.
OSU had its way with Michigan, up 14-0, 21-3 and 28-10.
No receiver had ever had this big of a day against Michigan: 217 yards (on 10 catches) by Boston.
"The approach we took this week paid off," Cooper said. "We didn't play tight. We played to win, not to lose. That's why we threw the ball down the field so many times, particularly on third down."
The coaches knew the defense would take care of itself, and it did, holding the Wolverines to four yards rushing and forcing them to throw the ball. Only past memories tightened Buckeye chests. The fans - who Cooper described as the loudest and most rocking group he had heard in his 11 years here - loved every saturated second of it.
The loss knocked UM out of a trip to the Rose Bowl.
It will be Orange or Sugar for OSU.
To the Rose goes Wisconsin, which beat Penn State Saturday. At 3:25 p.m. Saturday, the 120-plus yards of deep-green sod at Ohio Stadium was overrun by scarlet and gray.
Ten minutes into the celebration - which in some cases included ripping up fists full of sod in the end zones - came the chant:
"Goal-post! Goal-post! Goal-post!"
Ohio's finest - the troopers, not the wide receivers - were ready. When a burly student wearing a red fright-wig and No. 45 on the back of his red jersey made a ill-advised charge, he was met with a direct hit of pepper spray right in the eyeballs.
"Whoa, Nellie," as broadcaster Keith Jackson would say. The cops had accomplished what the Wolverines couldn't.
They had kept the Buckeyes out of the end zone.
The players had been saying all week they would have to make big plays to win. And, oh, did they live up to those words: a 46-yard run on a pitch-right by Wiley and block by fullback Matt Keller (7-0) and a 6-yard fingertip TD grab by Miller on third-and-10 (14-0); 30-yard TD catch by Boston (21-3).
Then, when Michigan closed to 21-10 just before half, OSU linebacker Jerry Rudzinski answered with a diving interception of a UM pass at the OSU 46 to set up a 43-yard TD pass to Boston; a 49-yard pass play to Keller out of the backfield (sprung by the two-Wolverine block by Miller) to set up a field goal (31-13). And, finally, with Michigan still within striking range (31-16 with seven minutes left), OSU cornerback Ahmed Plummer picked off a pass at the OSU 15.
Cooper's heart resumed a regular rhythm.
OSU's offensive line had its best day of the season.
Oh, the sweetness of it all.
It was clear, not only in the faces of the players after the game, but during it as well: Boston was flagged for taunting on his 30-yard TD catch; another Buckeye was called for excessive celebration.
"Obviously the referees weren't on the losing end of this game the last three years," OSU offensive right guard Ben Gilbert said.
The oppressed Buckeye souls who have wondered for those three years what the face of redemption would resemble, saw it in the gleam in the eyes of No. 45 just before he charged the goal-post.
The grimace that followed was the face of what-might-have-been.
"Obviously, we're very disappointed," Germaine said. "Our goal from the beginning was to go to Tempe (Ariz. to the Fiesta Bowl). But we're not hanging our heads. This was a great win."
Michigan 0 10 3 3 - 16
Ohio State 14 7 10 0 - 31
OSU-Wiley 53 run (Stultz kick), 12:20
OSU-Miller 16 pass from Germaine (Stultz kick), 9:44
Mich-FG Feely 27, 14:15
OSU-Boston 30 pass from Germaine (Stultz kick), 3:15
Mich-Streets 3 pass from Brady (Feely kick), :25
Third Quarter OSU-Boston 43 pass from Germaine (Stultz kick), 11:05
Mich-FG Feely 34, 4:47
OSU-FG Stultz 39, 1:36
Mich-FG Feely 30, 14:47
First downs 18 14
Rushes-yards 28-4 32-132
Passing 375 330
Comp-Att-Int 31-56-2 16-28-0
Return Yards 188 69
Punts-Avg. 7-26.9 5-41.4
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-1
Penalties-Yards 7-55 8-93
Time of Possession 32:59 27:01
RUSHING-Michigan, C.Williams 11-13, Thomas 5-12, Shyea 3-8, Brady 9-(minus 29). Ohio State, Wiley 12-120, Montgomery 9-16, Keller 2-5, Germaine 9-(minus 9).
PASSING-Michigan, Brady 31-56-2-375. Ohio State, Germaine 16-28-0-330.
RECEIVING-Michigan, Streets 9-118, Knight 7-116, Johnson 4-55, Shea 3-23, Thomas 3-23, Tuman 2-24, Terrell 2-11, Campbell 1-5. Ohio State, Boston 10-217, Miller 4-59, Keller 1-49, Wiley 1-5.