Drew Dileo has run through the moment thousands of times.
It’s a two-point conversion with everything on the line against his team’s biggest rival. It’s his last home game, and there are family and friends there to watch him. It’s the last game of the regular season.
He’s the wide receiver furthest behind the line of scrimmage in a three-man stack to the field side of the quarterback. And he knows the ball is coming to him.
At the snap, he watches the first receiver run a slant, then the next one sprint five yards and break toward the sideline. He runs to the end zone and turns to the quarterback, who has already started his throwing motion.
The play is supposed to create a brief window for Dileo and the quarterback to connect. Sometimes, in his imagination, it does, and then his team is celebrating a win against a bitter rival.
But Nov. 30, 2013, it didn’t. That afternoon at Michigan Stadium, there was no window, and there was nowhere for Devin Gardner to put the throw. That afternoon, Tyvis Powell stepped into the passing lane for the interception, and Dileo was left empty-handed. That afternoon, with the game-winning points and a storybook ending just three yards away, the final score read Ohio State 42, Michigan 41.
So he runs through the moment again.
‘It was a no-doubter’
The final moments were so captivating you might not even remember how Michigan got there in the first place, how Gardner led three touchdown drives in the fourth quarter despite playing on a broken foot.
With 32 seconds left, the quarterback found Devin Funchess for a jump-ball touchdown to cut the deficit to one. And then, without hesitation, Michigan coach Brady Hoke held up two fingers. He wanted the win.
Michigan lined up with two receivers grouped to the right, and Dileo began to jog across the formation to complete the stack. But before he could get set, the Buckeyes called timeout, and the Wolverines had a chance to huddle.
Hoke left the decision to the seniors.
“We had momentum,” Dileo said. “We had just run a good two-minute (drill), we had scored.
“It was a no-doubter from every single body in the huddle. Coach Hoke said, ‘Y’all want to go for two?’ My mind said, ‘I’m a competitor. Hell yeah, I want to go for two, because I want to beat Ohio State.’ ”
Dileo knew, if Michigan were to attempt a two-point conversion, he would be the intended target.
The Wolverines had been practicing that specific play “for a few weeks,” and they had never shown it before in a game situation. It was their go-to play for that scenario, to create an easy pitch-and-catch between their redshirt junior quarterback and the sure-handed senior wideout.
“You sit there, and people talk about visualization,” Dileo said. “You sit there and visualize. Kind of like the baseball analogy, you want to be up in the bottom of the ninth, two outs, with the bases loaded.
“You want to be the guy to throw or catch the pass to put you over Ohio State.”
Here’s how it was supposed to happen, as described by Dileo:
“The idea is one of them (in the stack) to slightly go outside and then run to the back corner of the end zone and take a guy with him, and then the other guy to go slightly inside and clear that out, too. I’m just going to run right up the middle. … I’m supposed to get across the goal line and just turn around. The idea is that they’re clearing out just a split-second window.
“By the time I turned around, Powell was just sitting right there in the window. Maybe Devin could’ve fit it low and outside, but he had a guy in his face. There was a lot of things that could’ve gone different.”
Doomed from the start?
Two things went wrong during the two-point conversion.
After Michigan lined up to go for two and Ohio State called timeout, the Wolverines came out in the exact same formation to run the exact same play.
Except that time, the Buckeyes had an additional player on the right side of the field. That time, they had a numerical advantage: four defenders to three receivers.
“The second time, I was really more aware of the defense they had, aware of whether they had made an adjustment, and they did,” Dileo said. “I really took pride of being a student of the game. I wish I had called a timeout.”
There was another solution. Gardner could’ve read the defense and realized Ohio State’s vulnerability to the weak side. He could’ve audibled to a designed option play, where Gardner would’ve kept the ball on a sprint left with the choice to pitch to running back Fitzgerald Toussaint if necessary.
But Gardner’s foot was broken, so he couldn’t and didn’t check out of the play. Instead, his throw into coverage was intercepted by Powell, and the quarterback fell spread-eagle to the turf.
“You can point fingers, and some people have,” Dileo said. “Maybe (offensive coordinator Al Borges) could’ve been a little more prepared. Maybe our offensive lineman could’ve got his block. Maybe I could’ve run a better route. Maybe Devin could’ve thrown a better ball.
“You can’t really put the blame on one particular play call.”
When the Wolverines beat Ohio State in 2011 to end a seven-game losing streak against their rivals, Dileo remembers “going crazy” in the locker room.
There was an electronic scoreboard near Dileo’s locker that counted the days since the last Wolverine win in the series. He recalls the satisfaction of seeing it reset from 2,926 to zero that afternoon.
“To play in late November against Ohio State wearing a winged helmet is extremely special,” he said. “It was pretty incredible to be in that game and be in that moment. I certainly took in the moment regardless of the moment. Not many people get to live through that.
“That moment, in games like that are reasons why I chose to come to Michigan.”
There was none of that elation in 2013.
Less than a month later, the Wolverines were clobbered by Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, 31-14. Dileo made two catches for nine yards. Gardner watched from crutches on the sidelines.
In the fourth quarter, Michigan ran a nifty two-point play with a wide receiver throw to a running back for an easy conversion.
But Dileo doesn’t remember that — at least not as much as he does that day in November.
“It’s kind of like the end of the ‘Friday Night Lights’ movie,” Dileo said. “Six inches from the goal line, and the game’s over, just like that.
“I sit there and I think about that play over and over and over. With all the positive things I did during my career at Michigan, that’s probably the one play I think about most.”