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Ohio State Comeback Highlights Big Ten Finals Day

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Ohio State Comeback Highlights Big Ten Finals Day

Ohio State against Indiana. Andy Marsh photo.

After the Big Ten Championship game, someone called out to Ohio State Head Coach Tom Rooney—“Hey Tom, don’t you feel 25 pounds lighter with that monkey off your back?”

The monkey was indeed sent somewhere else as Ohio State, which has been runner-up more times than they could count but had never won the Big Ten since the conference began holding a championship game, came back from 29-19 down to beat Indiana 33-29 and win the conference for the first time in 10 years.

“We got some key turnovers and interceptions, but in the end the guys trusted the system,” said Rooney. “And it feels good.”

Indiana and Ohio State had met earlier in the season, with Indiana coming back to win 33-31. The rematch was expected to be tight and it was. Ohio started the game on the front foot, putting Indiana under pressure in their own 22 and using a superb scrum shove to steal the put-in and put scrumhalf Vince Carso over with a quick snipe and sidestep.

Down 5-0 Indiana replied with a huge break from outside center Case Fleck, which was consolidated through the forwards. Eventually prop Andy Guhl crashed over, and Will Chevalier’s kick made it a 7-5  Indiana lead.

Right off the restart Indiana kicked deep and Peyton Wall raced in under that kick, grabbed it, and was gone. Chevalier kicked the extras and Indiana was up 14-5.

Slowly Ohio State began to try to exert control over the tempo. As they recycled the ball and forced the IU defense to scramble, the Buckeyes earned a penalty and kicked to the corner. From there, another penalty led to a quick tap and Nick Zolikoff burrowed in to score. Conor Forrestal slotted the extras and it was a two-point game.

Indiana responded with a quick attack through their speedy backs, finally culminating in a burst up the middle from Noah Brown. Chevalier converted and it was 19-12 IU at halftime.

Second Half

Just as they had in the first half, the Buckeyes worked to pin Indiana back in their half in the early moments of the second half. Ohio State managed to get to the tryline but were held up. From the ensuing goalline dropout, they attacked again. Indiana defended well for a while but Carson sniped over from a quick-tap and it was, with Forrestal’s conversions, tied 19-19.

As it was expected to be. The game was back and forth, and while the teams made mistakes, for the most part this was about both teams playing hard and playing well. 

Indiana’s open-field attack was adventurous, and sometimes risky, but worked nicely. They worked some interplay between forwards and backs and got into OSU territory again. This time Ohio State held them out, but committed an infraction and Chevalier put the conversion over for the 22-19 lead.

Moments later it was 29-19 as a storming run from Noah Brown put him under the sticks. Chevalier converted and it was 29-19.

At this point, Indiana had also taken control of the scrum, shoving OSU off the ball twice, and looked in control. But they pushed it. Seeking to go wide they floated a skip pass that was picked off by Connor Fairfield who took it in for five points. Forrestal made it seven and we were back in a nailbiter 29-26. 

Ohio State’s scrum seemed to right itself and the pack earned a couple of penalties. Forrestal popped a deep kick that IU gathered, but kicked right back into Ohio State hands. The counter from the Buckeyes was good. They pushed into the IU end, won another scrum, and then piled over for the final try. Forrestal converted and that was it, 33-29.

“They were the better team,” said IU Head Coach Eddie Abel. “We play wide open, we are always going to play that way, and it works a lot of the time, but sometimes it doesn’t. But that’s how we play.”

“I was concerned when they pushed us off the ball in two straight scrums,” said Rooney. “But the guys made the adjustments and pushed them off the ball after that. That was a big shift for us, and so were our interceptions. I think we scored maybe eight interception tries this fall. We’ve just been able to do that. Tell you what, it’s good to finally win one.”

Placement Games

Michigan State took 3rd in the Big Ten with a 21-5 defeat of Illinois. MSU scored two tries relatively early in the game, but as the weather turned colder at the Chicago Lions’ field at Hope Academy in Chicago, the ball handling suffered somewhat. The middle of the game was a battle of scrums and some fumbled opportunities, for both teams but especially for Illinois.

Finally Michigan State broke through with seven minutes to go, charging up the middle to score the try that sealed the game.

“We’ve been improving and have really good numbers and a great future,” said Illinois Head Coach Joe Rasmus. “But we didn’t capitalize on scoring chances in this game.”

“Illinois is a really good team but our guys put a lot of work into this,” said MSU Head Coach Tim Britain. “We were patient and we got a really good team effort.”

The 9-10 combo of Kevin Roche and Ryan Wakley was very effective, while dynamo hooker Jake Caurdy was a little ball of hate (and we mean that in a good way). Illinois No. 8 Calum Doyle was tough in contact and made ground going forward, but he was carrying some injuries and eventually was forced from the field.

After losing their first two games of the season, Michigan State won five in a row.

Michigan took down Purdue 33-12 in a game where the Wolverines just wouldn’t let Purdue get out of their end of the field. Purdue made Michigan work for their tries, but indeed it was a lot of work. 

Flyhalf Carter Lyon kept the Wolverines on track and Bill Young was a powerful presence all over the field at prop.

Purdue somehow got the ball rolling late and finally started to keep possession. The result was two tries, one after time was up. It was a nice way to end it for Purdue, but they also had a bit of a feeling of what might have been.

Northwestern, which plays in the Great Midwest D2 league, joined the Big Ten for the day to play Wisconsin in the 7th-8th game. For Wisconsin, it’s been a rough season as a very young outfit went 0-6 in the regular season.

But they learned a lot and put those lessons to great effect in beating Northwestern 70-10. For the Wildcats, this was a chance to test themselves against the big boys, and they did that, gaining some much needed experience and bonding a little with their fellow Big Ten players.

For Wisconsin, it was a chance to show they can play some good rugby and win. And they saw good games from their 8-9-10 trio of Andrew Eldenberger, Joe Ponte, and Callum Jones, while front-rowers Jackson Trotter and Graham Stier showed well up front. The Badgers started ten freshmen and sophomores in this game.