ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan had a shot to pull off one of the biggest upsets in its storied series against Ohio State.
And, the Wolverines didn’t want to take their chances in overtime.
Tyvis Powell intercepted Devin Gardner’s 2-point conversion pass with 32 seconds left and the third-ranked Buckeyes held on for a 42-41 victory against Michigan on Saturday in one the most thrilling games in the Big Ten’s biggest rivalry.
“We felt like we could win the game right there,” Gardner said, looking and sounding as saddened as any athlete after a setback.
Gardner threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Devin Funchess to make it 42-41, but instead of kicking for the tie, Wolverines coach Brady Hoke went for the lead with his offense.
“We played the game to win,” Hoke said.
The coach and his slumping team almost did, but Gardner couldn’t zip a pass to Drew Dileo in traffic near the goal line and Powell came up with it.
“During the timeout, coach (Hoke) asked the seniors if we wanted to go for 2, and every one of us said, ‘Yes,’” Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan recalled.
Buckeyes cornerback Roby Bradley recovered the onside kick to seal Ohio State’s 24th consecutive victory and keep its national championship hopes alive.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer insisted the streak was not as significant as winning his second game in as many tries against Michigan.
“No question — the win over our rival is better,” he said.
Braxton Miller accounted for five touchdowns for Ohio State (12-0, 8-0) and Carlos Hyde ran for a 1-yard score with 2:20 left to make it 42-35.
The Buckeyes will play Michigan State in the Big Ten title game next Saturday in Indianapolis, needing to beat the Spartans and No. 1 Alabama or No. 2 Florida State to lose a game to have a chance to reach the BCS national championship game.
The Wolverines (7-5, 3-5) finished fifth in the six-team Legends Division, won by the Spartans, and will wait to find out what lackluster bowl they’re play in to close Hoke’s third season in charge of college football’s winningest team. They lost five of their last seven games in the regular season.
“I’ll be very excited to see the next game to see if we play with the same passion that they had (against Ohio State),” Hoke said.
Michigan started strong as a 16 1-2-point underdog and didn’t wilt when Ohio State went up 35-21 late in the third quarter one drive after Gardner threw an incomplete pass on fourth-and-2 when Hoke opted against attempting a 31-yard field goal.
“They didn’t let up at all,” Miller said.
Michigan, though, couldn’t make a pivotal play in a shootout that could’ve been its most surprising win in the rivalry since Bo Schembechler’s first team at Michigan beat what Woody Hayes said was his best Buckeyes squad in 1969.
“I threw an interception that cost us the win,” said Gardner, who limped into a news conference with a protective boot on his left foot. “That’s what I will remember.”
When the Wolverines look back at the game, they’ll lament how their defense played.
Miller ran for 153 yards and three TDs and threw for 133 yards and two scores. Hyde ran for 226 yards to help Ohio State win for the ninth time in 10 games against Michigan, but he fumbled in the fourth quarter to help the Wolverines tie the game for a fourth time with 5:01 left.
Both teams scored at least 41 points for the first time in their series that dates to 1897.
“That’s an instant classic,” Meyer said.
Gardner was 32 of 45 for 451 yards and four TDs, connecting nine times for 175 yards and a score to Jeremy Gallon, and ran for a 1-yard TD that gave Michigan the first lead in the high-scoring game that went to halftime tied at 21. Gardner fumbled in the third quarter and Ohio State took advantage of the turnover on the ensuing drive with a Miller’s go-ahead, 3-yard TD.
It was a slug fest — literally for a few moments.
The teams exchanged pushes and a couple of punches in the second quarter after a Michigan kickoff.
The Buckeyes lost starting right guard Marcus Hall and kick returner Dontre Wilson and the Wolverines lost backup linebacker Royce Jenkins-Stone to ejections. All three players were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and had to leave the field after a skirmish. Hall and Wilson appeared to throw punches. Jenkins-Stone tugged Wilson’s helmet off and tossed it to the turf. While walking off the field and toward the tunnel, Hall put both arms into the air and flashed a familiar obscene gesture, extended middle fingers, to the Michigan crowd.
“We don’t like each other, that stuff is going to happen,” Wolverines linebacker Jake Ryan said.
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