Ohio State’s Magical 2002 National Championship Run Told by Former Players, Coach 20 Years Later

Jim Tressel, head coach of the 2002 national champion Ohio State Buckeyes, is lifted into the air by his former team during a victory celebration in Ohio States’ 21-10 win over Notre Dame on 3 september. Credit: Zachary Riley | photo editor

Perhaps the most memorable game that kept Ohio State football’s dream 2002 season alive was a November 9, 2002 date with Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium.

After a 32-yard field goal from former Boilermakers kicker Berin Lacevic gave Purdue a three-point lead, so no. 3 Ohio State trailed 6-3 with less than eight minutes to go.

The defensive slog continued until a last ditch effort on a potentially game-winning Buckeyes drive was met with a third-and-14 from the 50-yard line. The next play — a 13-yard completion to former tight end Ben Hartsock — set up a fourth-and-one most Ohio State fans will remember forever.

Former quarterback Craig Krenzel backed up to pass, stepped up in the pocket and without setting foot, dropped in a 37-yard strike to wide receiver Michael Jenkins.

” Touch touch. Michael Jenkins fourth and 1. Would you believe it? said play-by-play broadcaster Brent Musburger on the ABC broadcast. “Craig Krenzel strikes with a minute and a half to play. Holy Buckeye.

The Buckeyes’ push for a national championship continued with a 10-6 win over the Boilermakers, but the game was indicative of their entire 2002 title season: surviving and moving forward.

“If you’re a sports fan and you like Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em fights, we had quite a few that year,” former running back Maurice Clarett said. “It was something the fans appreciated because there was a lot of effort put in and there was a ton of dedication, heart, commitment, fight, willpower, all of that mixed into one season. , and that’s why people still enjoy it today.”

Clarett shocked the world when he trotted out for Ohio State’s season opener against Texas Tech, earning the starting job as a true freshman and quickly emerging as a weapon in the Buckeyes’ offense. .

He silenced doubters, rushing for 175 yards and three touchdowns on his college debut. Two weeks later against then-No. 10 out of Washington State, he carried the charge again, rushing for 230 yards and scoring twice in a 25-7 win, needing just four completions on Krenzel’s 10 attempts.

After the Sept. 14, 2002 game against the Cougars, the Buckeyes could only breathe sighs of relief in a 45-17 win over Indiana, a 50-7 blowout against San Jose State and maybe their most surprising performance of the year, a 34-3 dismantling of then-No. 19 Minnesota, holding the Golden Gophers to just 112 total rushing yards.

Other games weren’t as easy to find, as Ohio State survived thwarted attempts at Cincinnati, Northwestern, Wisconsin then no. 17 Penn State, Purdue and Illinois in overtime, but the Buckeyes had the right man to lead them in head coach Jim Tressel.

Clarett said he appreciates Tressel’s coaching style in addition to his caring spirit in helping players after their playing days are over.

“He looked so much like my high school coach. My high school coach was a very Super A, very subtle, wise and firm personality,” Clarett said. “Coach Tress is the same way but, you know, even more than that, who he is as an individual and what he was able to help the guys with after the game, that’s where more of his credibility , his reputation and who he is means more to me than anything.

The No. 2-ranked Buckeyes had only one game left in the regular season: “The Game” against then-No. 9 Michigan at Ohio Stadium.

Like other games this season, the Buckeyes looked like they were down, until they weren’t.

The Buckeyes trailed 9-7 heading into the fourth quarter and the Ohio State offense had struggled to move the ball most of the day. Late in the final period, the Buckeyes capped an eight-play, 57-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run from former running back Maurice Hall to give them a 14-9 lead with just under five. minutes to play.

Ohio State was not out of the water yet.

After a three-and-out, Ohio State came back to Michigan, which had to go 80 yards in the final 58 seconds of the game. The Wolverines marched down the field, reaching the Ohio State 24-yard line and having one last shot to win the game with a tick left on the clock.

Former Michigan quarterback John Navarre missed a pass to the goal line, but former safety Will Allen jumped the road a split second before the intended target went down with the catch.

Allen rolled onto the court, sealing the Buckeyes Big Ten title as players and fans rushed onto the court, and Ohio State was off to Tempe, Ariz., to then face No. 1 Miami – on his streak 34-game winning streak – in the Fiesta Bowl for the Bowl Championship Series national championship.

The Buckeyes didn’t have much luck and the Hurricanes reportedly printed flyers about the party to be held after their second straight national championship win.

“We were aware of this. We were aware of those flyers,” former security guard Mike Doss said. “We were aware of their preparation and we just thought they were going to overthrow us.”

At game time, Ohio State was out of step with the intimidating opponent.

Ohio State took a 17-7 lead, but in typical Buckeyes fashion of 2002, Miami clawed their way back into the game. Settlement ended with former Hurricanes kicker Todd Sievers scoring a 40-yard field goal to tie the game at 17.

In overtime, the Hurricanes struck first in five plays, giving the ball to the Buckeyes 24-17. In Ohio State’s first overtime, he walked to Miami’s 5-yard line, setting up for a fourth-and-3 — another memorable fourth this season.

Krenzel threw a fade route that was taken away from former receiver Chris Gamble, but a pass interference call extended the Buckeyes’ drive and they tied the game on a one-yard quarterback.

Ohio State held the ball in the second overtime, scored easily on a 5-yard run from Clarett to go up 31-24 and needed only one more save. his defence.

Miami rolled to the Buckeyes 1-yard line, and former linebacker Matt Wilhelm knocked down former Hurricanes quarterback Ken Dorsey’s 43rd pass attempt on fourth down, and the confetti rained scarlet and Grey.

Tressel said the national championship win was special because it ended Ohio State’s 32-year non-title drought and left a lifelong impact on the fanbase.

“There were a lot of people who weren’t sure they were going to live long enough for this to happen again,” Tressel said. “Then to make it happen, just to see the joy in the Buckeye Nation and everyone remembering exactly where they were that night.”

Doss said the 2002 national championship season was “a culmination of perseverance, camaraderie, love” and that the Buckeyes “came out and turned the world upside down” against Miami.

“Our team has come together. We played for each other and that’s what it takes to be a champion,” Doss said. “We changed the scope of college football – that you can beat any team and qualify for a championship and have a chance to win it all.”

Comments are closed.