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January 1, 1999

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NEW ORLEANS – All No. 3 Ohio State can do now is wait on some help from%^$Florida State – and hope its 24-14 victory Friday night in the Sugar Bowl was%^$championship material.%^$

The Buckeyes kept alive their slim hopes of sharing the national title by%^$beating No. 8 Texas A&M in a game that began like it might be the rout they%^$could have used, but had too many anxious moments in the end.%^$

Joe Germaine threw for a touchdown, Joe Montgomery rushed for one and the%^$special teams came up with a blocked punt return for a score – all in the first%^$quarter. But that was all the touchdowns Ohio State (11-1) could muster.%^$

It was the first time the Buckeyes beat Michigan and won a New Year’s Day%^$bowl game in the same season since 1968, which is also the last time Ohio State%^$won a national championship.%^$

Whether that adds up to another one depends on No. 2 Florida State beating%^$top-ranked Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl – and the AP voters being impressed%^$enough with Ohio State to make them No. 1. The Fiesta winner is the automatic%^$choice for national champion in the coaches poll.%^$

“If it’s a sloppy game and Florida State wins, you could make an argument%^$that the Buckeyes are as good as anybody in the country,” coach John Cooper%^$said.%^$

The Buckeyes had few problems against the Wrecking Crew defense of Texas A&M%^$(11-3), but may have lacked the knockout punch they needed. Ohio State%^$continually broke down once it crossed midfield, and Dan Stultz didn’t help the%^$cause by missing two field goals.%^$

“I thought we played a real good, solid game tonight,” Cooper said. “I%^$thought we played a real good, solid team. I was a little disappointed at%^$halftime that we didn’t score a couple of more touchdowns.”%^$

The Aggies were making their first appearance in the Sugar Bowl since%^$winning their only national championship 49 years ago.%^$

Coach R.C. Slocum had said the Buckeyes should have a shot at sharing the%^$national title, and he may know best as the only coach to face Ohio State and%^$Florida State. In the Kickoff Classic, his Aggies put a scare into the%^$Seminoles before losing 23-14.%^$

“We’ll play anybody head-to-head in the country,” said receiver David%^$Boston, the Sugar Bowl MVP after catching 11 passes for 105 yards. “I’m not%^$going to make a comment on No. 1. We’ll have to see how everything shakes%^$out.”%^$

Texas A&M, which came from behind in five of its victories this year, never%^$quit. After trailing 24-7 at halftime, the Aggies closed to 24-14 on a 7-yard%^$touchdown pass from Branndon Stewart to Leroy Hodge.%^$

They tried for one more comeback – just like the one over Kansas State in%^$the Big 12 Championship game that put them in the Sugar Bowl – but Jerry%^$Rudzinski tipped a lateral pass and recovered the fumble to end one drive, and%^$the Buckeyes’ defense made enough plays to keep the lead.%^$

The victory made it a New Year’s Day sweep for the Big 10 – and gave it a%^$5-0 record in bowl games for the first time in conference history.%^$

Cooper had said he would try to score as many points as possible against the%^$Aggies, and it showed.%^$

Ohio State didn’t look anything like a team trying to milk the clock with a%^$10-point lead throughout the fourth quarter. Germaine continued to throw%^$downfield, with mixed results, and frustration began to mount even if the%^$points didn’t.%^$

The Aggies, who had managed just three first downs after taking their%^$opening drive for a touchdown, got three first downs off penalties during a%^$68-yard drive that culminated with Hodge’s touchdown.%^$

Derek Ross, who blocked a punt that Kevin Griffin returned for a touchdown%^$in the first quarter, got into a shoving match with teammate Joe Brown on the%^$sidelines, and then the Buckeyes got a personal foul after their kickoff%^$return.%^$

Despite a commanding lead, Germaine wound up 21-of-38 for 222 yards. That%^$set an Ohio State bowl record for passes attempted.%^$

Montgomery had 96 yards on nine carries, while starter Michael Wiley had 88%^$yards.%^$

The Buckeyes, who were just 2-7 in bowl games under Cooper, came out tight%^$and Texas A&M made them pay.%^$

After forcing a three-and-out, the Aggies steamrolled to a 7-0 lead by%^$gaining at least six yards on all six of their plays, going ahead on Dante%^$Hall’s 9-yard run. All-American cornerback Antoine Winfield slung his fist in%^$disgust as Texas A&M celebrated in the end zone, and his Buckeyes took notice.%^$

Germaine finished a 71-yard drive with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Reggie%^$Germany, and then the Buckeyes turned it over to their running game. Wiley%^$gained 20 yards on two carries and Montgomery rumbled 29 yards up the middle to%^$the 10, from where he scored one play later.%^$

The special teams took over from there. Ross came around left end untouched%^$and stuffed the ball before it even left the leg of punter Shane Lechler.%^$Griffin, nephew of Ohio State’s two-time Heisman Trophy winner, Archie Griffin,%^$scooped it up and ran 16 yards for a touchdown that made it 21-7 and left the%^$Aggies in shock.%^$

The Buckeyes also led 21-7 in the first quarter against Michigan State, a%^$game in which they blew a 15-point lead in the second half and wound up in the%^$Sugar Bowl instead of the Fiesta Bowl.%^$

They didn’t let this one get away. Whether that was enough won’t be known%^$until Monday night after the Fiesta Bowl.%^$

%^$By DOUG FERGUSON%^$
AP Sports Writer
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