OHIO STATE’S GREATEST DRIVE #24
It was a foregone conclusion even before kickoff in Ann Arbor that 22nd of November in 1969. Ohio State- averaging 46 points and over 500 yards per game, and owners of a 22-game winning streak- was 60 football minutes away from their straight national championship. Due to the Big 10’s archaic “no-repeat” rule, the Buckeyes would have to spend New Year’s Day in Columbus instead of sunny Pasadena, but it had to be nice knowing you’d be sitting home as king of the hill. Two people who WOULD enjoy the California sun that November afternoon would be ABC’s lead college football broadcast duo Chris Schenkel and Bud Wilkinson. Apparently ABC felt it’s top team would be better served calling USC/UCLA, so the “B” team of Bill Flemming and Lee Grosscup was dispatched to Ann Arbor. From there, in that 100th anniversary season of college football, they would be witness to the coronation of the Ohio State Buckeyes as The Team of the Century. Instead they sat in on the Upset of the Century.
No game in OSU football history had ever ended in that 24-12 score. No game since has ended in that score. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it ever happened again. Yeah, TBGUN’s rookie coach had learned too well from his teacher. Bo 24, Woody 12. It was Bo to Pasadena, the Texas Longhorns to #1 in the polls and the Bucks home to ponder what might have been. And as the 1970 season dawned, they would ponder every time they hit the practice field as they walked over a rug that simply said-
1969 – UM 24 OSU 12
1970 – ?
As the ’70 campaign got underway, the Bucks were at their customary #1 spot in the AP poll, but even as OSU rolled to a 7-0 start putting up an average of 35 points a game, it became more evident that the offense wasn’t as freewheeling as the past 2 seasons. Quarterback Rex Kern’s stats told the tale-
1968 – 75/131 passing, 972 yards, 7 TD’s
1969 – 68/135 passing, 1,002 yards, 9 TD’s
1970 – 45/98 passing, 470 yards, 3 TD’s
As Rex himself said in Jim Tressel and Jeff Snook’s book “What It Means To Be A Buckeye”, “(Woody) had given me a lot of freedom those first two years, but after that (1969) Michigan game, it changed. We didn’t pass much at all in 1970…It seemed he just didn’t have the confidence to put it up, as we had the first two years..” In Alan Natali’s book “Woody’s Boys”, Kern added, “(W)e had been using an offense that won us every game but one. Woody’s trying to find new offenses…He was trying to find all the solutions to why we got beat by Michigan…and…lost sight of what this team was.”
Despite Woody’s return to his traditional conservative approach, one thing the 1970 Buckeyes still were was talented. In 1969, senior fullback Jim Otis had produced Ohio State’s first 1,000-yard rushing season. Now the torch had been passed to John Brockington who would also go over the 1,000 yard mark. Leo Hayden, Jan White, Bruce Jankowski and an up-and-coming sophomore named John Hicks were on hand to complement “Brock” and Kern, while the defense still had Jack Tatum, Tim Anderson, Mike Sensibaugh, Jim Stillwagon, Doug Adams and Mark Debevc.
After firing out 4-0, the Bucks headed to Illinois where coach Jim Valek had been told THAT MORNING he would be relieved of his duties after the game. After threatening to boycott the rest of the season, the Illini gave OSU all they could handle, leading by 7 in the 3rd period before bowing 48-29. Despite the double-digit win, the Bucks dropped to #2 in the AP poll behind Texas. The next week they handed a tough Northwestern team their only conference loss, 24-10 in Columbus, but slid another spot in the AP to third. The next Saturday in Madison the Buckeyes trailed 10-7 at the half, but came back to knock off Wisconsin 24-7 with John Brockington scoring all 3 Buckeye touchdowns. Only a trip to West Lafayette stood between OSU and the long awaited rematch with the Maize and Blue.
For the second year in a row Mother Nature would affect the OSU/Purdue matchup. It hadn’t seemed to bother the Bucks in ’69 at the ‘Shoe as they blew the Boilers out 42-14 despite the cold and snow (In fact, the ’69 Purdue game would be the last contest in Ohio Stadium with snow until the 1993 Penn State game). Now for the 1970 get-together, Purdue coach Bob DeMoss had left the Ross-Ade Stadium tarp OFF the field the whole week, and with rain and snow throughout the week and on gameday, the field was a quagmire.
OSU drew first blood in the opening period as John Brockington powered into the endzone from 26 yards out. It was “Brock’s” 16th touchdown of the year and the Bucks led 7-0. There wouldn’t be much time to savor it.
In the ’69 contest the Buckeyes had jumped to a 28-0 second quarter lead, but Purdue’s Stan Brown had returned a kickoff 98 yards for a Boiler touchdown to spoil the shutout. On November 7th, 1970, as OSU was battling Wisconsin, Brown had returned a Michigan State kickoff 93 yards for a score. Now a week later Brown did it to the Buckeyes again, bringing Ohio State’s kickoff after the Brockington TD back 96 yards to tie the game up at 7. Despite the early promise of offensive fireworks, the game would settle into a muddy battle of defense and missed opportunities.
Mike Sensibaugh made his 22nd and final career interception (a school record that still stands) in the second quarter to halt a Purdue drive at OSU’s 5-yard line, then at the end of the first half the Boilers missed a 54-yard field goal try. Early in the fourth quarter, the Old Gold and Black got a huge break as Rick Tekavec blocked a Mike Sensibaugh punt and recovered it at OSU’s 17. Three rushing plays gained 4, 3 and 2 and now it was 4th-and-1 at the Buckeye 8. Passing up the field goal, Agase went for it but Stan Brown was met in mid-air by Doug Adams and Jack Tatum for no gain.
The “Super Sub”, Ron Maciejowski, had been called on to replace the injured Kern, just as he had in ’68 at Illinois in our 24th greatest drive. And just as he had nailed a big pass play on that game’s winning drive (44 yards to Larry Zelina), this time he connected with Bruce Jankowski on a 52-yard hookup to the Purdue 27. OSU could only manage 2 yards in three plays so placekicker Fred Schram was sent in to attempt a 35-yard field goal which he missed, leaving the score knotted at 7. True, the Bucks had already beaten Northwestern and TBGUN would be ineligible for the Rose Bowl, but a tie with the Boilers and a loss to the Wolverines would knock the Buckeyes out of the Big 10 title and Rose Bowl, and time was running out on their chances to salvage this Purdue tilt.
The Buckeye defense rose to the occasion once more, forcing Purdue to punt and OSU took over on their own 35. Maciejowski immediately lit the fuse with a 23-yard scamper to put the ball on the Boilers’ 42. On the next play “Mace” slid for 7 more, then on second-and-three senior halfback Leo Hayden sprinted for 14 to the Purdue 20. Ohio State could only get 9 yards on it’s next three plays and now it was 4th-and-1 and decision time for Woody. Would Purdue stop one of his runners as Tatum and Adams had stuffed Stan Brown? Fred Schram had missed from 35 yards out on the last possession; could he convert this one into the wind? Hayes called on Schram to try the 30-yarder.
A baseball standout in his hometown of Massillon, Schram had only been kicking for two years. In fact, linebacker Stan White had done most of the Bucks’ placekicking in 1969 and 1970 before Schram had taken over. Now with his teams’ unblemished record on the line, Schram came through with the 30-yard boot, giving OSU a 10-7 lead with 2:04 left.
But it wasn’t over yet. Stan Brown fielded the ensuing kickoff and brought it back 39 yards to the Buckeye 47 before Bruce Smith caught him. Would Purdue answer Ohio State’s last score as they had the first? Not if the OSU defense had their way. After a first-down incompletion, defensive tackle Shad Williams dropped Boiler QB Gary Danielson for losses of 4, then 14. On 4th-and-28 Danielson was thrown for a loss of 11 and now the Bucks could turn their attention to the Wolverines.
It was a superb effort from the Ohio State defense, as they held Purdue to just 3 first downs and 134 yards of total offense. One stat said it all- the Boilers were 0 for 17 on third down. Things weren’t a whole lot better for the Buckeyes as they actually punted on third down four times, but John Brockington’s 136 yards on 26 carries and Schram’s right foot helped keep the Scarlet and Gray undefeated. The AP pollsters wouldn’t be impressed- OSU dropped to #5 after the game, the third time they had won a game then slipped in the polls- but one viewer of the TV broadcast was. Woody Hayes, Ron Maciejowski and Fred Schram all took timeout from the postgame locker room celebration to accept telephone congratulations from President Richard Nixon.
The wins hadn’t come by huge margins down the stretch, but Ohio State was right where it wanted to be after the Purdue win- undefeated and untied with TBGUN in the crosshairs. “The Game” lore says that OSU’s two-point conversion attempt in the ’68 game with a 50-14 lead was a factor in their downfall the next year in Ann Arbor.
Well, pulling the rug out from under a second straight national title won’t make you any friends, either. As author Bill Cromartie put it in his book “The Big One”- “Just as OSU was doomed going into the 1969 game, U-M never had a chance in 1970”. It wouldn’t have mattered if the Bucks were 5th or 50th in the AP, the day of reckoning arrived a week later and the Buckeyes prevailed 20-9, thanks in large measure to a pair of field goals from Fred Schram. The same Fred Schram who saved the day at West Lafayette and didn’t even play enough in 1970 to earn a varsity letter!