Fifth-year senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen was crying as he emerged from the crowd gathering by the student section.
Senior defensive tackle Mike Martin stood in front of the tunnel taking photo after photo with students he didn’t know.
Senior tight end Kevin Koger was surrounded by a group of fans who had rushed the field along with thousands of their friends, hugging and patting him, preventing the Toledo native from making his way up the Michigan Stadium tunnel.
This is what beating Ohio State looks like. How does it feel?
“If I could put it into words, I would,” said fifth-year senior wide receiver Junior Hemingway.
After seven long years of waiting, the Michigan football team finally figured out that feeling, with a dramatic 40-34 victory over the Buckeyes at the Big House on Saturday.
The 17th-ranked Wolverines (6-2 Big Ten, 10-2 overall) didn’t do it easily or gracefully — they needed a last-minute overthrow and a final interception from the defense to seal the game — but they did it.
“What satisfies you is when you see those kids in that locker room and when you saw them on the field, how (happy they are),” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke. “It’s fun as a coach to see how they responded.”
Junior quarterback Denard Robinson led the way for Michigan. In one of the best and biggest games of his career, he threw for 167 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 170 yards and two more touchdowns. Robinson had just three incompletions. His touchdown pass to Koger early in the fourth proved to be the final margin.
But in a 74-point shootout, it came down to a defensive stop. Two negated Michigan touchdowns, one on an official review and another due to penalty, gave Buckeye freshman quarterback Braxton Miller a final chance after the Wolverines settled for a field goal and just a six-point lead.
The defense struggled all day against Miller, who had a career day with a combined 335 total yards and three touchdowns. One drive earlier, Ohio State needed just five plays to go 80 yards and bring the deficit within three, 37-34.
“(We felt) we let our offense down,” Van Bergen said. “We really wanted to be able to let the offense hand the ball off to us so to speak and we let them down once. We said as we came to the bench, ‘It’s not happening again. No way.’ ”
With 45 seconds left on the clock, on 4th-and-6 from his own territory, Miller tried to fit a pass in to Buckeye wide receiver Devin Smith. The ball bounced off Smith and into the air. Sophomore cornerback Courtney Avery dove and made the interception, finally sealing the game.
At long last, 2,926 winless days against Ohio State had come to end.
“When the interception came it was kind of like, ‘There it is,’ ” fifth-year senior center David Molk said. “That’s what we needed to turn. That’s that momentum change that we needed to completely lock this game down. The defense stepped up. They did what they had to do when the time came.”
For the final two minutes, it appeared Michigan was one play away from ending the seven years of frustration. Redshirt sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint had a touchdown run reviewed and called back. Junior quarterback Denard Robinson had a touchdown scamper negated due to penalty, leading to the Michigan field goal and one final Ohio State chance.
The Buckeyes almost capitalized — Miller overthrew a deep pass to wide-open receiver DeVier Posey with less than a minute to go. The next play was Avery’s interception.
The play capped an unconventional performance for this Michigan team, one defined by a dominating offensive performance and a few opportunistic defensive plays.
The defense’s safety in the first quarter gave the Wolverines an early lead. Early in the fourth quarter, with Michigan up just six, the defense sacked Miller on a 3rd-and-2 from the two yard-line, forcing a field goal.
The Wolverines never relinquished the lead after that, as Robinson drove Michigan 75 yards for a touchdown while taking four minutes off the clock.
It doesn’t matter how it’s added up, it equals one thing, the thing Hoke has said since he got here, the reason for his countdown clocks. Michigan finally “beat Ohio.”
“It was a team win,” Molk said. “It wasn’t just an offensive victory, it was a team victory against Ohio State.”
Days since Michigan beat Ohio State: 0.