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Wiley’s 120 yards and stifling Ohio State run defense lands eventual Sugar Bowl bid

Nov. 21, 1998 (AP) –  When the Buckeyes and head coach John Cooper finally erased a lot of Michigan frustration Saturday with a 31-16 victory that set off a wild celebration on the field at Ohio Stadium, he didn’t gloat or rationalize.

”That’s the ball we played the last play of the game with,” he said, holding the football given to him by the Buckeyes. ”We’ll probably put that in a trophy case. That’s not my ball. They gave it to me, but that’s a team ball. I didn’t win the game, the team did.”

Despite the constant reminders of Ohio State’s failures against its biggest rival, Cooper said he never took it all personally.

”I don’t feel like I’ve lost a game, and I’m not going to take credit for winning this game today,” he said.

Joe Germaine tossed three touchdown passes and No. 7 Ohio State turned a pair of punt mistakes into scores to finally shake the demons. The Buckeyes’ seniors had run up a 41-7 record, but were 0-3 against their rivals.

Thousands of fans ran onto the field in the final minute to celebrate with the Ohio State players. Officials eventually allowed the final 27 seconds to run off the clock rather than clear the field. The crowd stayed, dancing and singing along with the school fight song and patting players on the back.

”I was in no hurry to get back in the locker room,” linebacker Jerry Rudzinski said. ”I wanted to stay out and celebrate with 95,000 fans. I wanted to just look around and savor the moment.”

Ohio State (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten) grabbed a share of the Big Ten title with Michigan and Wisconsin, which almost certainly will go to the Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes’ Bowl destination is uncertain.

No. 11 Michigan (8-3, 7-1), which had won eight in a row after an 0-2 start, ruined three Ohio State unbeaten seasons in the previous five years and continually knocked the Buckeyes out of the national title picture.

But Ohio State came out as if to erase all those ugly memories. Four plays into its second possession, Michael Wiley took a pitch right, squeezed between blocks by Matt Keller, Ben Gilbert and John Lumpkin, and streaked 53 yards for a touchdown.

Wiley finished with 120 yards on 12 carries. At the same time, Ohio State’s defense which came in as the nation’s stingiest against the rush allowed the Wolverines just 4 net yards on 28 attempts.

Michigan was forced to punt after the ensuing kickoff, but the snap sailed through the hands of punter Jason Vinson. He scrambled back and barely got off a wobbly kick that gave the Buckeyes the ball at the 15.

Germaine, who completed 16 of 28 passes for 330 yards, zipped a 16-yard bullet to a leaping Dee Miller in the end zone.

”The kicking game kept it from being the kind of game we wanted it to be,” said Lloyd Carr, who lost for the first time to Ohio State after winning his first three as Michigan coach. ”We wanted to take it into the fourth quarter and have a chance to win. You can’t have two punts blocked and beat a good football team … a great football team.”

With Ohio State ahead 14-3 late in the second quarter, Derek Ross blocked Vinson’s kick, with Jonathan Wells recovering at the Michigan 35.

Germaine tossed a simple square-out to David Boston, who shed Andre Weathers’ tackle and outraced his pursuers down the left sideline for a 30-yard score and a 21-3 lead.

Boston had 10 catches for 217 yards and later ended all Michigan hopes with a 43-yard touchdown pass from Germaine.

The Wolverines, unable to move all half, finally put together an 80-yard drive, capped by Tom Brady’s 3-yard fade pass to Tai Streets with 25 seconds remaining to make it 21-10.

”They were better than us today,” Streets said, shaking his head. ”You’ve got to give them credit, they were just better than us today.”

Brady, playing in his first game against Ohio State, completed 31 of 56 passes for 375 yards all school records with two interceptions.

”To come out and play like we did is rewarding and a dream come true,” said Germaine. ”I knew we had a big game in us.”

~ Rusty Miller, AP writer