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November 18, 2006

Ohio State finishes where it started: No. 1

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Box score

COLUMBUS, Ohio Troy Smith and Ohio State did it all, overwhelming Michigan with offense, winning the Big Ten title and streaking into the national title game.

The top-ranked Buckeyes put their dazzling speed on display Saturday with a barrage of big plays - and they needed every one to beat an inspired Michigan team, 42-39.

The "Game of the Century," the first 1 vs. 2 matchup in this storied rivalry, was played a day after Michigan lost feisty former coach Bo Schembechler, who died Friday. The teams couldn't have honored his memory with a better game, although it wasn't the type of football he and Woody Hayes played when they battled for a decade.

"There were a lot of good playmakers out there today," Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel said. "It was a fast-break game the whole way."

The Wolverines and Buckeyes may have another shot at each other. Depending on how the BCS standings fall, Michigan (11-1, 7-1) can still make it to the title game in Arizona.

Two defenses that came in allowing 20 points per game combined were unable to stop each other's attack. It was the second highest-scoring game in the 103-game series, which dates to 1897; the most points scored were 86 in 1902, the fourth meeting, which Michigan won 86-0.

This one was surely more entertaining.

Smith played a near perfect first half and finished 29-for-41 for 316 yards, a third straight magical performance against Michigan that might have just locked up the Heisman Trophy for the senior.

And while Smith and the Buckeyes twice jumped out to 14-point leads, the Wolverines wouldn't stay down, led by Mike Hart's 142 yards and three touchdowns.

When Smith tossed his fourth touchdown pass - a 13-yarder to Brian Robiskie with 5:38 left on a drive aided by a Michigan roughing-the-passer penalty on a third-and-long incomplete pass - Ohio State (12-0, 8-0) was up 42-31, but they still couldn't rest.

Chad Henne connected with Tyler Ecker for a 16-yard TD and with Steve Breaston on a 2-point conversion to make it 42-39 with 2:16 to go. Michigan's onside kick was caught by Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr., and all that was left was for Ohio State to run out the clock.

With 22 seconds left the Buckeyes sideline emptied onto the field. The fans followed from the stands and joined in for a rousing rendition of the alma mater.

Tressel's blazing Buckeyes will play for the national championship for the second time since the 2002 season in Arizona on Jan. 8. Who they will play will be determined in the next two weeks.

Michigan made quite a good case to be that team.

Though that's probably little solace for Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, a Schembechler protege, who has now lost five of six to Tressel and Ohio State.

"We gave up too many big plays," Carr said. "Those are mistakes in a game like this, in any game, that will get you beat."

A video tribute to Schembechler, an Ohio State alum, was shown on the scoreboard before kickoff and the crowd of 105,708 responded with a respectful and loud ovation.

"Michigan has lost a coach and patriarch," the public-address announcer read before the game. "The Big Ten has lost a legend and icon. Ohio State has lost an alumnus and friend."

"Win it for Bo!" read a sign held aloft by a Wolverines fan.

"It was definitely difficult for us," Henne said. "Coach Carr loves him dearly and so do we. .. It's sad to see him go. We're dearly miss him. We tried to fight for him today."

Schembechler's death tempered some of the animosity that usually goes with this rivalry - but not the intensity.

Hart plowed in from a yard out on third-and-goal on the second play of the fourth quarter to cut the Ohio State lead to 35-31 after Ohio State fumbled the ball away at its own 9 with a high snap.

Ohio State turned the ball over three times, but made up for it by gouging Michigan's defense - a unit that was allowing 231 yards - for 503 yards. Chris Wells had a 52-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Antonio Pittman broke one for 56 yards in the third to make it 35-24.

Ohio State had five plays of at least 20 yards midway through the third quarter, equaling the number Michigan had in its first 11 games.

The anticipation for this showdown of unbeatens had been building for more than a month, when it became apparent that only a huge upset would keep the Big Ten rivals from entering the game with perfect records for first time since 1973.

For the Buckeyes, who've been No. 1 all season, it was the second time this season they beat the No. 2 team - and with Smith leading the way. Smith has been the Heisman front-runner since September, when he led Ohio State to 24-7 victory at Texas in the Buckeyes' first 1-2 game of the season.

The offenses started fast, each scoring on their opening drive and doing it by going to the air. Mario Manningham, who missed three games with knee surgery, showed he was back in shape with three receptions for 58 yards that helped set up Hart's easy 1-yard TD run.

Smith responded by going 9-for-11 for 68 yards, capping drive with a 1-yard TD pass to Roy Hall.

Smith tacked on his second TD pass with a deep strike off play-action down the middle to Ginn from 39 yards out to make it 21-7. For a moment, it looked as if the Buckeyes were primed to pull away.

No way.

Hart busted a 30-yard run and Henne found Adrian Arrington all alone down the left side for a 37-yard score to make it 21-14 with 2:33 left in the second - too much time to leave Smith and the Buckeyes, who came flying back down the field.

Smith tied the school record with a 29th TD pass, a quick slant from 8 yards out to Anthony Gonzalez made it 28-14 at half.

For more coverage of Ohio State, visit BuckeyeGrove.com; for more on Michigan, visit TheWolverine.com.



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