Sitting in the visiting lockerroom at Kinnick Stadium after
their 30-27 loss to Iowa Oct. 4, the Michigan football team’s
seniors were in the midst of some major soul searching.

Kate Green
TONY DING/Daily
Michigan senior running back Chris Perry, surrounded by media and fans, proudly holds a rose in the air. Perry and the Michigan seniors clinched their first outright Big Ten title with a 35-21 win over Ohio State Saturday.

The Wolverines were 4-2 and had lost their chance at a national
championship. With one more loss in their remaining six games, the
seniors would likely leave Michigan without playing in a Rose
Bowl.

“We never thought we’d be 4-2 at that point in the
season,” Michigan fifth-year senior captain Carl Diggs
recalled. “I never imagined that.”

But celebrating their 35-21 win over Ohio State Saturday on a
rose-covered field with an emotional student body, the Wolverines
were a long way from their somber lockerroom in Iowa. With six
straight wins, three over top-10 teams, Michigan rewrote the script
of its season, clinching its first outright Big Ten title and Rose
Bowl berth since 1997.

“It’s like a storybook (ending),” senior
tailback Chris Perry said. “It feels surreal right now, but
after I get home and sit down and think about it, it’ll feel
even better.”

Perry better have gotten some ice before he sat down. Struggling
with pain in his right hamstring throughout the 100th meeting
between Michigan and Ohio State, Perry ran for 154 yards and two
scores on 31 carries. The Heisman Trophy candidate also caught five
passes for 55 yards, giving him his fifth game this season with
more than 200 total yards (209).

Perry and quarterback John Navarre benefited from a determined
offensive line, which shut down one of the nation’s most
dominating defensive fronts. The Buckeyes, previously leading the
country allowing just 50.5 rushing yards per game, gave up 170 to
the Wolverines. The Michigan line also gave Navarre ample time to
throw, holding the Buckeyes without a sack.

“It’s a great feeling,” Michigan offensive
tackle Tony Pape said. “That was the number-1 defense in the
nation. They’re the defending national champions, and they
were a great defense.”

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr had to resort to trickery to get the
Wolverines on the board with 39 seconds left in the first quarter.
To the delight of the 112,118 strong at the Big House (a new NCAA
record), Michigan receiver Steve Breaston lined up behind center,
and Navarre spread out wide with the Wolverines facing 3rd-and-goal
from the 3-yard line. Breaston sprinted to his right and followed
the right side of the line into the endzone, giving Michigan an
all-important 7-0 lead.

Two minutes after Breaston’s score, Navarre hit Edwards on
a slant. Edwards shed safeties Will Allen and Nate Salley on his
way to a 64-yard touchdown reception, the longest of his career.
Edwards later put the Wolverines up by 21 with a 23-yard reception
that capped a 10-play, 80-yard drive.

With less than six minutes left in the half, quarterback Craig
Krenzel led the Buckeyes on an 81-yard drive to cut
Michigan’s lead to 21-7 — the first points given up by
the Michigan defense at home in the first half all season.

The Wolverines began the second half with a five-play, 62-yard
drive capped off by a Perry 30-yard run for a 28-7 lead.

Michigan looked to have taken a 34-7 lead when Navarre hit a
streaking Edwards for an 87-yard touchdown pass on its next drive.
But the Wolverines were called for holding, erasing the play and
giving the Buckeyes new life.

Ohio State, showing the will of a defending national champion,
fought back with two consecutive scores to come within 28-21.
Krenzel hit Santonio Holmes for his second touchdown of the game,
this one coming on a 13-yard fade route over cornerback Leon
Hall.

Two drives later, Ohio State backup quarterback Scott McMullen,
filling in for Krenzel (injured left shoulder), led the Buckeyes on
a 10-play, 93-yard drive. Lydell Ross quieted the Big House crowd
with a 2-yard touchdown run to bring Ohio State within seven.

On the Wolverines’ ensuing possession, Navarre underthrew
Edwards, and Ohio State cornerback Chris Gamble intercepted the
ball at the Ohio State 36.

“We love sudden changes,” Michigan linebacker Scott
McClintock said. “We thrive on it. We like getting on the
field with as much on the line as possible.”

With its season on the line, the Michigan defense held strong,
giving the ball back to the Michigan offense at its 12. Eight plays
and 88 yards later, Michigan took a 35-21 lead on a Perry 15-yard
scamper to the outside with less than eight minutes left in the
game.

Barring a collapse from Southern Cal. and Louisiana State, which
could put the Wolverines in the Sugar Bowl (this year’s Bowl
Championship Series title game), the Wolverines (7-1 Big Ten, 10-2
overall) will spend New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Calif.,
playing in the Rose Bowl, affectionately referred to as “the
Granddaddy of them all.” The Buckeyes (6-2, 10-2) will likely
head to the Capital One Bowl, formerly the Florida Citrus Bowl,
unless they are offered an at-large berth to a BCS bowl.

No matter where the Wolverines spend New Year’s, they can
look back to Iowa. The Michigan seniors addressed the whole team
after that game, letting their teammates know that their season was
far from over.

“We didn’t really know what this team was made of
yet,” Diggs recalled.

The next week at Minnesota, trailing 28-7, Diggs and the seniors
got their answer. The Wolverines showed that they were made of
championship fabric, scoring 31 points in that fateful fourth
quarter to win 38-35.

“I’d be a fool to say it wasn’t a turning
point,” Perry said. “It showed how much heart and pride
we had within ourselves.

“A lot changed that night in the second half.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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