Critical fourth-down flag in OT turns game to BuckeyesPosted: Saturday January 04, 2003 3:12 AM
Updated: Saturday January 04, 2003 4:56 AM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The national championship game Friday night came down to a fade-stop route toward the side of the end zone. It came down to a fourth down. It came down to a hold. Or, maybe, not.
The national championship of college football came down, when you get right down to it, to a referee's late flag. And it was maybe even the wrong referee's flag.
Whatever, it was a flag that gave Ohio State new life. Enough life, it turns out, to upset No. 1 Miami for the title in a 31-24, double-overtime thriller.
"I'm, like, there on the bench, head down, about in tears," said Dustin Fox, the Ohio State cornerback. "I saw [Ohio State quarterback] Craig Krenzel sitting down on the 20-yard line, like things were over … and then I look up on the screen and it says, 'Marker Down! Marker Down!'"
When college football classics are debated in years to come, when critical calls are recalled, No.1 on the list of golden oldies will have to be Friday night's pass interference call on the Hurricanes, a call that literally stole a victory from Miami.
Maybe it was a good call. Maybe it wasn't. That's where the debate will rage.
But, undoubtedly, that play, that call, is what cost Miami a second straight national title and maybe a place as the game's greatest team. It ended a 34-game winning streak for Miami and enabled Ohio State to win its first championship since 1968.
"They got some calls, and we got some calls," said Ohio State receiver Chris Gamble. "I think things evened out."
The Hurricanes, of course, will have no one to blame for this one but themselves. Huge favorites going into the game, they had to rally with a field goal as time ran out in regulation to force the game into overtime.
They bounced back by scoring a touchdown in their first possession of overtime -- then started to slip again.
The Hurricanes had Ohio State stopped at the 29, facing a fourth-and-14, but Krenzel found Michael Jenkins for 17 yards to the Miami 12. Three more plays went for seven yards, forcing the Buckeyes into another fourth down, this one from the Miami 5.
And then the play that Hurricanes everywhere will remember forever.
The Buckeyes called a timeout, and Krenzel called the play -- a five-wide formation, Gamble going on the fade-stop route on the right side of the end zone. The 6-foot-2 Gamble was going against 5-foot-11 freshman cornerback Glenn Sharpe.
Gamble started to run the fade toward the side, then stopped in his tracks and turned for the pass from Krenzel. There was some jostling going on between the two as the play started, but it seemingly was nothing major.
Sharpe, arms by his side, put his chest into a leaping Gamble as the throw arrived, and the ball bounced off Gamble incomplete. The line judge, just feet from the play, made no move toward his flag.
Cameramen and photographers ran onto the field, thinking the game was over. Many people on the Miami sideline did, too. But the field judge, Terry Porter, who started to throw his flag then hesitated, finally went ahead and chucked it. Pass interference in the end zone.
Game not over.
"I replayed it in my mind," Porter said. "I wanted to make double-sure it was the right call."
Gamble certainly thought it was.
"He was all up in my shoulder pads, in my helmet. Yeah, it was interference," Gamble said.
"For the ref to end the game like that," Miami's Jerome McDougle said, "that makes it even worse."
Said Porter: "I saw the guy holding the guy prior to the ball being put in the air. He was still holding him, pulling him down while the ball was in the air. I gave the signal for holding. Then I realized it should be pass interference because the ball was in the air."
The Buckeyes got a fresh set of downs from the 2 and scored the tying touchdown three plays later on a Krenzel sneak from a yard out. They scored to start the second overtime, too, then held Miami on a fourth-down play from the 1 to snag the title.
Game now over.
Afterward, a disconsolate coach Larry Coker, losing his first game as head coach at Miami after 24 straight wins, could barely address the call.
"You hate for an official to have to make that call," Coker said. "You would like for it to be a legitimate call."
Legitimate or not, that's what the game came down to Friday. Legitimate or not, Hurricanes fans are going to have to live with its memory forever.