Like many iterations of “The Game,” this one meant everything.
The 1989 matchup between the No. 3 Michigan football team (9-1 overall, 7-0 Big Ten) and No. 20 Ohio State (8-2, 6-1) was for a Big Ten championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl. But for the Wolverines, it was more than that.
Though it hadn’t yet been announced at the time, it was Michigan coach Bo Schembechler’s last game at Michigan Stadium, as he would retire after the season due to heart problems.
The Wolverines’ 28-18 win — which clinched back-to-back outright conference championships for the first time in Schembechler’s career — was a fitting send-off.
Though Michigan’s passing game was inconsistent, the Wolverines found success through their running game. Fullback Leroy Hoard ran in a touchdown to give Michigan the early lead in the first quarter.
Hoard and fullback Jarrod Bunch combined for 53 yards on a drive halfway through the second quarter, setting up a touchdown run by running back Allen Jefferson to make the score 14-0. The Buckeyes threatened at the end of the half, but the Wolverines held Ohio State to a field goal.
But at the beginning of the second half, Michigan’s game-long passing woes came back to bite it.
The Wolverines received the kickoff, but on the second play of the drive, things went awry. Michigan quarterback Michael Taylor threw a pass intended for receiver Greg McMurtry, but Ohio State cornerback Vincent Clark read his route every step of the way. His diving interception gave the ball — and the momentum — to the Buckeyes. The Wolverines’ defense once again kept Ohio State to a field goal, but the lead was down to one score.
On its next drive, Michigan went three-and-out, concluding with a punt that bounced out of bounds at the 40-yard line. The Buckeyes took advantage of the good field position. Running back Scottie Graham gained 29 yards on the drive before pushing his way into the end zone. But a fumble on the ensuing two-point try kept the Wolverines’ lead intact, 14-12.
“This game has always been a big game,” Schembechler said after the game. “Ohio State really came at us and gave us everything they had.”
The beginning of the fourth quarter mirrored the beginning of the third. This time, it was the Buckeyes’ quarterback Greg Frey who was intercepted by a leaping Todd Plate — a walk-on defensive back who was only in the game as an injury replacement. And suddenly, Michigan was back in business.
Two plays later, Hoard broke free for a 40-yard run that set up another touchdown to put the Wolverines up, 21-12. Though he suffered an ankle injury that took him out of the game, the momentum was back on Michigan’s side.
Both teams added another touchdown in the quarter — with Bunch’s six-yard run with 1:28 left sealing the game for the Wolverines.
The 28-18 win was Schembechler’s 194th, a school record. The Big Ten Title was his 13th in 21 years as head coach. His motto, “Those who stay will be champions,” rang true — every player who played four years under Schembechler won a Big Ten title and not one of them endured a losing season. Even though Michigan would lose the 1990 Rose Bowl to Southern California — Schembechler’s 10th Rose Bowl — his on-field legacy was complete.
Schembechler didn’t announce his retirement until three weeks after the Ohio State victory. Nobody knew at the time that the win would be his last.
And Schembechler didn’t betray anything during the postgame celebration. As the players rushed the field, he was stoic, with just a small smile and a tip of the cap as the crowd roared behind him.