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College football

Fiesta Bowl simply stunning

Miami is shocked and national champion Ohio State is delirious after double-overtime thriller.

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 5, 2003

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It already is being hailed as one of the greatest games in college football history, and the stage upon which it was played assures a lasting place in the game's annals.

Ohio State's 31-24 win in a double-overtime thriller against Miami on Friday in the Fiesta Bowl was as scintillating as it was shocking.

"It was one for the ages," said Fiesta Bowl executive director John Junker, who had joked earlier in the week at a coaches' function: "Wouldn't it be great if the game went to double overtime?"

There were chuckles, simply because the notion seemed silly.

The Hurricanes were nearly two-touchdown favorites against an Ohio State team that wasn't even picked to win the Big Ten.

But the Buckeyes, who found a way to win week after week, including a victory at Illinois in overtime and six other wins by a touchdown or less, were able to make the extra play in a game filled with big ones to win the national championship after a 34-year drought.

Ohio State (14-0) was voted national champion in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls, the Buckeyes' first wire-service championship since the 1968 season.

For Miami (12-1), it was a stunning end to a 34-game winning streak. The Hurricanes, who have won five national titles, were attempting to become the first team to win back-to-back championships since Nebraska in 1994-95.

"This game could be an impetus to have the NFL re-think what they do. Because you can't get much more excitement," said Ohio State coach Jim Tressel on Saturday morning, when he accepted various national championship trophies. "We flipped ends of the field so the whole stadium could have part ownership of the game. I love the way it is. The red zone is what it's all about."

Unlike the pro game, which decides ties by playing sudden-death overtime, college football uses a system in which the teams get an equal number of possessions starting at the opponents' 25-yard line.

Miami got the first overtime possession and scored on a 7-yard pass from Ken Dorsey to Kellen Winslow, giving the Hurricanes a 24-17 lead.

That meant OSU needed a touchdown to prolong the game, and a fourth-down interference penalty on UM freshman defensive back Glenn Sharpe will long be debated. Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel, faced with fourth and 3 at the 5, threw incomplete to Chris Gamble, and the Miami players spilled onto the field thinking the game was over.

But a late flag came from field judge Terry Porter, who ruled Sharpe had interfered.

"I saw the guy holding the guy prior to the ball being in the air," Porter said in a statement released after the game. "He was still holding him, pulling him down while the ball was in the air."

Porter said he took a long time to throw the flag because "I wanted to make double-sure that it was the right call. I replayed it in my mind."

So the Buckeyes had a first down at the 2, and three plays later Krenzel scored on a 1-yard run to tie it at 24.

The Hurricanes will forever rue that call, one that cost them their sixth national championship. But four plays earlier, the game could have ended had they defended a fourth-and-14 pass. Krenzel hit Tampa's Michael Jenkins with a 17-yard pass in front of safety Sean Taylor to keep the drive, and the season, alive.

"All I know is Krenzel did for us what we needed done," Tressel said of the game's MVP.

The game went to a second overtime, and Ohio State had the ball first. It took just five plays for the Buckeyes to drive 25 yards, with freshman Maurice Clarett scoring on a 5-yard run.

Then it was up to Miami, and Dorsey converted a fourth-and-3 pass to Winslow. A face mask penalty gave UM the ball first and goal at the 5. Then a pass interference penalty meant first and goal at the 2.

But with tailback Willis McGahee out after tearing three ligaments in his knee the Hurricanes were not the same. Jarrett Payton gained 1 yard, a Dorsey pass fell incomplete, and fullback Quadtrine Hill, on his only carry of the game, was stopped for no gain.

That meant fourth and goal, and this time Miami had no magic left. Dorsey, under heavy pressure, got off a weak pass that was batted down by linebacker Matt Wilhelm.

"We knew what was on the line," safety Donnie Nickey said. "We have been in that situation before. We all believed in each other. We knew we had the heart to take this thing home and we did it."

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