Time stopped as the ball hung in the air.
Chris Evans ran along the sideline in anticipation of Brandon Peters’ pass. The sophomore running back had beaten his defender, but the ball never reached his grasp.
The redshirt freshman quarterback had released it, but at the tail end of his follow-through, Wisconsin linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel crashed into him.
Peters’ left side slammed into the ground, and his head took the brunt of the hit. Instead of celebrating his big hit, Van Ginkel immediately got off the quarterback and looked into his eyes.
They were closed. He instantly called over the medical staff, who tended to Peters as he lay motionless on the turf.
When he finally sat up, he needed a cart to carry him off the field. He needed a wheelchair to make it to the locker room. And he needed an ambulance to take him to the hospital.
After the road that Michigan’s former third-string quarterback had taken to reach that point, the picture was especially poignant.
If the pass had fallen into Evans’ hands, the Wolverines would have been on their way to a comeback drive in response to the Badgers’ previous touchdown. They were down by just four points when he let go of the ball. They had a chance to beat No. 5 Wisconsin.
Peters was likely still in the locker room when the Badgers put the game out of reach. Their next drive started right after he left the game. It lasted for just one minute and 42 seconds and finished in the end zone.
Moments before, Michigan’s entire team had been huddled around the cart, wishing Peters well as he headed off. The Wolverines may not have felt the hit as much as he did, but they felt it.
After the game, Michigan’s defense tried to downplay the significance of his exit.
“It doesn’t really affect us on defense too much,” said fifth-year senior tackle Maurice Hurst. “(We’re) just trying to keep doing what we were doing.”
Added sophomore VIPER Khaleke Hudson: “(We’re) just going to make adjustments. Next quarterback gotta come in and step up and help us get some wins.”
But there is no denying how much Peters’ exit affected the Wolverines. He had guided Michigan to a 10-7 lead not long before he took that hit. The Wolverines ended up losing by 14.
Their three-game winning streak was gone, and with it went their goal of winning out. Their shot at sneaking back into the Big Ten championship discussion evaporated into thin air.
That isn’t to say Peters would have been able to stretch their three-game streak to five. Coming into Michigan’s final two games against Wisconsin and Ohio State, it would have taken a considerable effort to come away victorious.
But the Wolverines had been riding high for three weeks. Their new quarterback had given them new life. While it’s fair to point out those wins came against relatively inferior opposition, Peters showed that he could deliver results against top competition as well.
Michigan was still in a game against Wisconsin that was expected to be over long before he got hurt. He never received an opportunity to seal the deal.
“Brandon, I thought, was very good,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “We can’t get him hit as much. I thought we needed to get better at that.
“They played a three-man pick stunt that was effectively holding our center and we weren’t able to slide off of that, and that got us a beat a few times.”
While Peters was knocked out, the CT scan came back clear. That doesn’t mean he is in the clear. Harbaugh couldn’t speak to Peters’ status for Ohio State, but players rushed to the emergency room don’t have the best track record of returning to the field the next week.
It happened to redshirt junior quarterback Wilton Speight in September, and he hasn’t seen the field since.
Speight led the Wolverines for three games and started a fourth before he was injured. Michigan hadn’t lost yet.
Then fifth-year senior John O’Korn led the Wolverines for three games and started a fourth before he was replaced. Michigan lost twice.
And then Peters led the Wolverines for three games and started a fourth. Michigan hadn’t lost — until he left the field.
In a year with a revolving door under center, Peters took over as the Wolverines’ last hope. They didn’t lose the season until they lost him.
With their man down, their season is over.
Ashame can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @betelhem_ashame.