The following is the finale of a series of fictional game stories predicting the 2017 Michigan football season.
Third Time’s the Charm
Jim Harbaugh, Wolverines get first win over Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Ann Arbor, Mich. – Make no mistake, this was the biggest win for the Michigan football program since the last time the Wolverines beat a second-ranked Ohio State team in 2003. But in the grand scheme of things for this season, it remains to be seen if it makes all that much of an impact.
It was a Saturday that featured the top two teams in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings, and the final undefeated duo, each losing on the road to their bitter rivals. With top-ranked Alabama losing at Auburn in the Iron Bowl, and the 11th-ranked Wolverines upsetting No. 2 Ohio State, 30-24, at Michigan Stadium. The Buckeyes are still bound for Indianapolis for next week’s Big Ten Championship Game versus Wisconsin. And if they win there, they’re likely assured of a spot in the playoff.
But don’t tell Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer losing to Michigan doesn’t make that much of a difference.
“This is arguably the biggest rivalry in the sport, so it’s a game that matters more than most,” Meyer said. “I was really, really disappointed with the way we played in the first half. Proud of the way we came back in the second half. And then not happy with the final result. Thankfully, we took care of business all season up until this point, so all of our season goals are still in front of us. But this one is going to sting.”
Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh joked afterward he had an “excitement unknown to mankind” thanks to the victory.
“This is called ‘the game’ for a reason,” said Harbaugh, who becomes the first coach in Michigan’s storied history to win at least 10 games his first three seasons in Ann Arbor. “The way our team finished this season last week at Wisconsin, and (Saturday) against Ohio State really speaks to the character of our guys. This was a total team victory, and the crowd today was incredible. The atmosphere inside the Big House was really something to behold.”
The Wolverines fed off that energy to get the jump on Ohio State. Jumping out to a quick 14-0 lead, thanks to two big runs from Chris Evans that set up both touchdowns. Ohio State responded with a touchdown drive of its own, but then didn’t score again the rest of the half and trailed, 20-7, at the midway point.
“It was important for us to get off to that start to get some confidence,” said Evans, who became Michigan’s first tailback to rush for a 1,000-yards since 2011.
The Buckeyes came out on fire to start the second half, scoring touchdowns on their opening two possessions with ball control drives. The Wolverines’ only points in the third quarter came on a 46-yard field goal from Quinn Nordin, and Michigan led by just two, 23-21, heading into the final 15 minutes.
“We had the momentum heading into the fourth quarter, but give them credit,” Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett said. “This time they made the plays in crunch time we’ve typically made.”
Two of those winning plays came from Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary, who came up with back-to-back sacks to turn back a Buckeye drive that reached inside the 10-yard line. Then Maurice Hurst broke through the line to block the ensuing field goal attempt.
“We just kept telling each other we were gonna make those clutch plays this time,” Hurst said. “We basically had a ‘refuse to lose’ attitude, and went out there and made the plays that needed to be made. We weren’t going to leave it in anyone’s hands but our own this time.”
The Wolverines made it a two-possession game when Wilton Speight hit Donovan Peoples-Jones for a 42-yard touchdown pass with 3 minutes 31 seconds left.
“I just got behind the defense, turned on the speed, and (Speight) threw me an excellent ball,” Peoples-Jones said. “And give our coaches credit for even calling that play and going for it, rather than staying conservative.”
Yet while Michigan had some breathing room, the Wolverines couldn’t breathe easy yet.
The Buckeyes again drove deep into Michigan territory, and even had six plays from inside the 15-yard line thanks to an offside call that wiped out a potential game-clinching interception. But when Michigan linebacker Michael McCray broke up a potential game-winning touchdown pass from Barrett to Marcus Baugh in the end zone, Ohio State had to settle for a field goal and an onside kick.
However, the onside kick attempt sailed out of bounds to give the Wolverines the ball so they could run out the clock. When Speight took a knee for the final play, one of the loudest collective roars you’ll ever hear at Michigan Stadium erupted from the crowd. Almost as if Michigan fans were expelling years of collective frustration in this classic rivalry with one, final burst of emotion.
“I’m just so happy for our fans, coaches and our seniors,” Harbaugh said. “When we came here three years ago, those seniors really had to buy-in. And this year with such a young team, we really needed them to lead. They’ve done an outstanding job in that regard, and set a high bar for future senior classes to follow.”
Michigan’s regular season is now over, and the Wolverines will find out their bowl destination next week. More than likely Michigan will land somewhere in the New Year’s Six for the second consecutive year.