OHIO STATE’S GREATEST DRIVE #27
After compiling a 25-2 record the previous two seasons, Ohio State was breaking in 13 new starters as they worked through the non-conference part of their 2004 slate. Lydell Ross had romped for 141 yards and both Justin Zwick and Troy Smith had thrown touchdown passes as the Bucks cruised past Cincinnati 27-6 in their opener on September 4th. Meanwhile Marshall QB Stan Hill had been sacked 8 times as the Thundering Herd dropped their first game to Troy. 104,622 fans packed the Shoe under absolutely gorgeous sunny skies for this first-ever clash between Marshall and Ohio State.
The Buckeyes drew first blood on the opening play of their second offensive series. Justin Zwick(left) threw arguably his finest pass to date to Santonio Holmes, hitting the sophomore flanker in stride for an 80-yard touchdown pass to give OSU a 7-0 lead. Stan Hill then completed 7 of 8 passes on a 12-play drive capped by Earl Charles’ 2-yard touchdown run. Not only did the 80-yard march tie the game, but the Buckeye defense suffered a huge blow as senior cornerback Dustin Fox, starting his 30th-straight game, broke his forearm in a collision and would be lost for a month.
Later in the first quarter Zwick took Ohio State 85 yards to score, capping the drive with a 47-yard TD strike to Holmes once again. The Bucks led 14-7 after one and Santonio already had 3 receptions for 146 yards. But Marshall hung in and tied the game at 14 as Lydell Ross was stripped of the football and linebacker Jonathan Goddard rumbled 27 yards with the fumble for a Herd touchdown.
OSU shook it off and moved 80 yards in 8 plays on their next possession. Zwick and Holmes continued to play pitch-and-catch but it was Roy Hall that Zwick dialed up for the touchdown from 20 yards out. The score was the first of Hall’s career and gave the Buckeyes a 21-14 halftime lead.
In the third quarter Marshall, who had pretty much gone exclusively with a short-passing game in the first half, turned to their ground game and moved from their own 7 to the Buckeye 7 in 16 plays, 14 of which were runs. Herd kicker Ian O’Connor came on to try a field goal but a fake was called. Problem was a couple of Marshall offensive linemen didn’t hear the audible down at the closed end of Ohio Stadium so O’Connor ran right up the middle into the arms of David Patterson. The impressive drive was all for nothing and Herd coach Bob Pruett would be roundly second-guessed afterward.
Santonio Holmes, who had finished the first half with 7 catches for 199 yards, fumbled after his first catch in the second half but Marshall could do nothing with the turnover. However, OSU’s next turnover, a Chris Royal interception of Justin Zwick, led to trouble. A late hit on Nick Mangold during Royal’s INT return gave the Herd a first down at the Buckeye 13. Marshall was guilty of holding on 3rd-and-9 but Jim Tressel took the penalty, giving the Herd another 3rd-down shot from the 23. Stan Hill drilled a pass to Brad Bates who got inside the pylon in the southeast corner for the score. With 8:40 left the game was tied at 21, and things looked even bleaker as Chris Royal immediately picked off Zwick on the next play. Royal’s second pick of the game (and fourth of the young season so far) gave Marshall a golden opportunity, but with 3:17 to play Ian O’Connor missed a 35-yard field goal. The Buckeyes could do nothing offensively and punted back to Marshall with 1:36 to go. After 3 running plays OSU called their last timeout with :30 to go and overtime seemed imminent. But from the Herd 29, O’Connor’s less-than-stellar day continued as his punt only traveled 26 yards, setting OSU up at their own 45 with 25 seconds left.
Justin Zwick immediately looked to his money-man Santonio Holmes, and the two made a nine-yard hookup to Marshall’s 46 with :20 remaining as Holmes got out-of-bounds. It was Zwick-to-Holmes once more for 7 and a first down at the Herd 39. Now with 17 seconds left Marshall called their last timeout. On the next play Zwick threw to tight end Ryan Hamby over the middle but Hamby could only get 8 and now the Bucks were in hurry-up mode. A Marshall defender had pinned Hamby down after the reception and as the clock drained to 2 seconds Zwick had to snap the ball even though Hamby wasn’t set. Zwick was able to spike the ball but Hamby’s late arrival cost OSU five yards and now the line of scrimmage was the Marshall 38, necessitating a 55-yard field goal try. To most other college teams in 2004 this would have been a problem. But not when you’ve got “Nuge” on your side.
OSU’s senior All-American kicker trotted out as the shouts of “NUUUUUGE” rolled out of the stands. For a brief moment it appeared he would get a closer shot as Marshall coach Bob Pruett came off his sideline and the officials stopped play. Had he pulled a Chris Webber and called a timeout he didn’t have? No, apparently he just wanted a clarification of the time, and the officials confirmed that even without the motion penalty Zwick had spiked the ball with 2 seconds left. Moments later it didn’t matter- kicking into the closed end, Nugent(right) drilled home the game winner which would’ve been good from 65. The roar from the 104,000-plus quickly turned to chants of NUUUUGE that could probably be heard back in Huntington, West Virginia as the Bucks won it 24-21.
Mike Nugent’s 55-yard game winner was the longest field goal ever in Ohio Stadium and the second-longest in school history.
Nuge would end up nailing 8 of 9 field goals from 50 yards or more in his OSU career, and among the boatload of records he would own by year’s end would be his lofty perch as Ohio State’s all-time leading scorer. He would also cap off 2004 by winning the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s finest kicker.