COLUMBUS — When the Michigan football team loses to Ohio State, especially in games decided by just a few points, there are often plays that haunt Wolverine fans for decades.
The 2006 game, possibly the biggest in the rivalry’s history, brought Shawn Crable’s momentum-changing, helmet-to-helmet hit on Buckeye quarterback Troy Smith. The 2013 game ended with an attempted 2-point conversion by Michigan, where Devin Gardner’s potential game-winning pass was picked off and denied the Wolverines a monumental upset.
The 2016 version of “The Game” — the teams’ most important showdown in 10 years — ended in heartbreak again for No. 3 Michigan, which fell to No. 2 Ohio State, 30-27, in double overtime.
Yet again, there will be plays Wolverine fans will have ingrained in their minds for a while. But this time, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh directed the blame elsewhere.
“I am bitterly disappointed with the officiating today,” he said. “That spot … the graphic display is the interference penalties. The one not called on us on Grant Perry, (who) clearly was being hooked before the ball got there. The previous penalty they called on Delano Hill — the ball is uncatchable and by the receiver.”
There was a third-down pass from Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett that sailed incomplete well beyond his receiver’s reach, only for Michigan senior safety Delano Hill to get whistled for pass interference. There was another third-down pass, this time from the Wolverines in the second overtime, where sophomore receiver Grant Perry received no call from the officials despite appearing to have his arm hooked by a defender.
And, most crucially, there was a 4th-and-1 conversion by Barrett in double overtime, which the referees ruled a first down and upheld after review — if he had been ruled short, the game would have been over, and the Wolverines would have escaped with a 27-24 victory.
Those final controversial plays were the decisive ones, but they weren’t the first times the officiating crew drew Harbaugh’s ire. Late in the third quarter, he was incensed after a potential Ohio State false start was ruled an offside penalty by the Wolverines.
Harbaugh tossed his play card into the air and spiked his headset into the ground, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that further baffled him.
“(The referees) could have been watching the game rather than being concerned about (me),” Harbaugh said. “If you throw a hat, you throw your script toward your sideline, that’s a penalty? I asked (the referee) that, and he said, ‘Well, it is in basketball.’
“I go, ‘Well, this isn’t basketball.’ ”
Harbaugh reiterated his disappointment several times in a heated, eight-minute post-game press conference, but he wasn’t the only one feeling it.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight chose his words carefully after the game, physically stopping himself from criticizing the officials’ calls in the overtime periods. Fifth-year senior defensive end Chris Wormley made his thoughts a little clearer — he was a part of Barrett’s decisive conversion, shoving the quarterback backward with his right arm as Hill hit him low.
“I think he was short,” Wormley said. “But I guess the refs saw something different. You’ve gotta play through those types of calls, those types of adversity.”
Michigan made plenty of other mistakes — a stagnant fourth quarter offense and a few costly turnovers let the Buckeyes back in the game in the first place, and running back Curtis Samuel ran 15 yards to the end zone untouched on the game’s final play.
But in the end — like some fans might for decades to come — Harbaugh found himself unable get past the controversial calls.
“We’re probably just going to keep beating a dead horse here,” he said to end his press conference. “You know how I feel.”