Maurice Hall scored on a three-yard run with 4:55 left and second-ranked Ohio State forced two key turnovers in the final minutes to move within one win of its first national title in 34 years with a 14-9 victory over ninth-ranked Michigan.
Maurice Clarett carried 20 times for 119 yards and a touchdown and caught a 26-yard pass from Craig Krenzel that set up the score by Hall. Hall took a pitch from Krenzel and raced to the right corner of the end zone, giving the Buckeyes a five-point lead.
"That was the first time all season that we ran the option," Hall said. "We felt like it was going to be a good play at the goal line, because it would keep them off-balance and it worked."
Krenzel kept the eight-play, 57-yard drive alive moments earlier when he dove forward for a first down on 4th-and-one at the Michigan 33.
But it was the defense that again delivered when it mattered most, forcing a fumble by Wolverine quarterback John Navarre that was recovered by defensive end Will Smith.
Michigan got one more chance and moved inside the Ohio State 25 in the final seconds before cornerback Will Allen picked off a pass by Navarre thrown into heavy coverage.
"There was some miscommunication there," Navarre said. "We wanted to get it to Braylon (Edwards) and he stepped in front and made a great play."
The Buckeyes (13-0, 8-0 Big Ten) completed an undefeated regular season and will play for their first national championship since 1968 in the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona on January 3. Ohio State also clinched its 29th Big Ten title, assuring Iowa a date in the Rose Bowl.
"We are honored to be Big Ten champions and to go to Tempe and play for the national championship," coach Jim Tressel said. "We are so proud of our guys, not only that they won, but the way they have won. It is a great tribute to college football."
The victory was even sweeter since it came against the Wolverines (9-3, 6-2), who had dashed high hopes at Ohio State in the recent past. Three times since 1993, the Buckeyes were undefeated entering their final regular season game against Michigan, and lost each time.
"What an electric day," Tressel said.
Tressel defeated the Wolverines for the second time in as many seasons. His predecessor, John Cooper, was fired in large part due to his inability to defeat the Wolverines.
Tressel boldly promised a win over Michigan last season, and the Buckeyes responded with a 26-20 win in Ann Arbor. But the stakes were far higher on Saturday as the Buckeyes became the first Big Ten team to qualify for a BCS title game.
"We wanted to leave it out on the field." Buckeyes safety Mike Doss said. "When it was time for us to make a stop, we had to make it and we did that in the second half."
Once again, the win did not come easily. The Buckeyes went down to the wire in wins over Purdue and Illinois the last two weeks and needed another big defensive effort against the Wolverines, who were held to three field goals by Adam Finley.
The Buckeyes were helped by the return of Clarett, who carried 20 times and scored Ohio State's first touchdown on a two-yard run. He had missed most of the last three games with a sprained shoulder and scored Ohio State's first touchdown on a two-yard run.
"I didn't play with much pain but I wasn't really thinking about it," Clarett said. "I really wanted to win this game for the seniors because it meant a lot to them. Today the whole team picked it up. We wanted it."
With Clarett back, Krenzel played a lesser role in the offense and completed 10-of-14 passes for 124 yards.
Finley opened the scoring with a 36-yard field goal midway through the first quarter. Navarre put the Wolverines into position by completing passed of 15 yards toEdwards and 18 yards to Ronald Bellamy.
Navarre completed 23-of-46 passes for 247 yards and Edwards caught 10 of the passes for 107 yards. Wolverines tailback Chris Perry was not a major factor, carrying 28 times for 76 yards.
Clarett showed what the Buckeyes had been missing when he went around left end for 28 yards, setting up a two-yard TD run by the freshman that gave the Buckeyes a 7-3 lead. A pass interference penalty put the ball at the 2.
Michigan added field goals of 35 and 22 yards by Finley in the second quarter.
The Wolverines had first-and-goal at the Ohio State 8 just before halftime, but a sack and a false start moved them back. Edwards appeared to catch a touchdown pass, but was called for offensive interference and Michigan settled for the short field goal that made it 9-7 at halftime.
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr lost for just the third time in 14 meetings against top 10 teams.
"Ohio State did what they had to do to win the football game," Carr said. "I'm proud of the way our team fought. Our guys played as hard as they could. I'm tremendously disappointed for our guys."
Saturday marked the 99th meeting between the schools. The Wolverines hold a 56-37-6 advantage.