“If Ohio State comes in totally focused on us, we had no chance,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “We felt like we had them in the perfect storm.”
The Buckeyes weathered that storm with the help of a college football rarity.
Brian Rolle intercepted a potential tying 2-point conversion in the closing minutes and returned it for two points the other way, helping the Buckeyes hold off pesky Navy 31-27 on Saturday.
“It wasn’t a dazzling fourth quarter for us, by any means,” coach Jim Tressel said in the understatement of the day.
A crowd of 105,092—the largest ever to see the Buckeyes open a season— sat in stunned silence after the 21-point underdog Midshipmen scored twice in 4 minutes to cut a 29-14 deficit to two points with 2:23 left.
Navy went for the tie, but Rolle stepped in front of Ricky Dobbs’ pass and rumbled up the sideline to preserve the win in the Midshipmen’s first trip to Ohio Stadium since 1931—and keep the luster on next week’s rematch between the Buckeyes and No. 4 Southern California.
“I remember a lot of bad things from last year, like that long, silent ride home,” linebacker Austin Spitler said of USC’s 35-3 pasting of the Buckeyes. “It’s up to us now. We’ll have our doubters and now we’ll have to go out and prove we’re good.”
For a while, at least, they were against Navy.
Terrelle Pryor was 14 of 21 for 174 yards, and ran for a touchdown and passed for another to help Ohio State build its lead. But then the Minutemen seemed to make every big play.
Dobbs, who completed 9 of 13 passes for 156 yards and two scores, rolled left and hit Marcus Curry on a 16-yard scoring pass with 1:24 left in the third quarter to cut Ohio State’s lead to 20-14.
The Buckeyes countered with two quick scores.
Aaron Pettrey, who kicked three field goals, made a 52-yarder early in the fourth quarter. Two plays later, Navy’s Mario Washington caught a pass that Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman ripped out of his arms with Ross Homan falling on the loose ball. Three plays after that, Dan Herron took an option pitch and bounced in off left tackle on a 6-yard scoring run to put the Buckeyes up 29-14.
It stayed that way when Pettrey’s extra-point try clanged off the upright.
Navy turned the game around with a defensive stand. The Buckeyes passed on the field-goal attempt and went for it on fourth-and-2 at their own 15 with 6:30 left, but linebacker Tyler Simmons surged forward to stop Herron for no gain.
“I certainly should have kicked a field goal on fourth-and-1,” Tressel said. “That was a huge mistake in my mind.”
On the next snap, Dobbs lofted a perfect spiral over the middle to Curry, who had a step on safety Anderson Russell. Curry then outran everybody to the end zone, completing the third-longest pass play in Navy history. The 85-yard score narrowed the lead to 29-21.
“I made the move and had enough gas to get all the way there,” Curry said. “But I was dying at the end.”
Pryor then overthrew a receiver and Navy safety Emmett Merchant intercepted and returned it 28 yards to the Ohio State 33 with just under 4 minutes left.
Dobbs ran for 4 yards, then passed for 5. On third and 1 at the 24, he faked a handoff and sprinted straight up the middle for the touchdown.
The gasp from the partisan crowd was audible.
Navy called timeout to set up for the 2-point try. Dobbs then took the snap and dropped back, passing over the middle. Rolle was the only player close and the junior thundered up the Navy sideline 99 yards.
“I’d seen it on film, but I was surprised he actually threw it,” Rolle said. “I was like, ‘Wow.”’
“The guy came out of nowhere,” Dobbs said. “I don’t know how he broke on it.”
After getting the onside kick, the Buckeyes—finally, gratefully—were able to run out the clock.
“This game shows we’ve got a long way to go,” Spitler said. “The preparation starts tomorrow.”