ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When the play unfolded just like his coach said it would, Tyvis Powell executed just liked he'd hoped he could. He stepped in front of the receiver to snag the two-point try that would have given Michigan a massive upset – and then he joined the Ohio State celebration.
But it wasn't until almost an hour later, when Powell stepped into the shower in the visitors' locker room somewhere underneath the grand old stadium, that the magnitude of what he'd done hit home. Because it was then that he realized what almost happened.
"It just clicked," the redshirt freshman nickelback said. "That was our season on the line. We had 12-0, the gold pants, a chance for a national championship. It just hit me like, 'Wow – I really just kind of saved the season.' "
That became even more apparent a couple of hours later, as the Buckeyes' buses rolled south. They were passing through Delaware, Ohio, when the stakes got even higher. Seconds after Chris Davis' 100-yard field-goal return gave Auburn an incredibly improbable upset of No. 1 Alabama, Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby immediately tweeted: "Hellll yeaaaaa!!!!!" – which probably summed up the Buckeyes' reaction to what must have felt like the perfect ending to an imperfectly perfect day.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was correct on several levels when he called the Buckeyes' 42-41 victory "an instant classic." The phrase is so overused, it's been burned out. But if this grand rivalry didn't much resemble the days of Woody and Bo – too many touchdowns, not enough defense, and so on – it might never have been more entertaining.
Trick plays. Power football. Punches, counterpunches and ejections. On the field, too: punches, counterpunches and finally, courtesy of Powell, rejection.
When it was over, the Buckeyes celebrated. But the collective emotion was not so much elation as relief.
"It was just such a crazy ending," junior tight end Jeff Heuerman said. "Everyone's head is still spinning."
The Buckeyes' narrow escape against a faltering rival won't do anything much to help their case in the BCS' beauty pageant, or to change perception that their run has been over a mediocre Big Ten. Suddenly, with Alabama's loss, all of that matters even more.
The argument began immediately after Auburn's win against Alabama: Should a one-loss SEC team like Auburn pass the unbeaten Buckeyes?
The Wolverines had scored five offensive touchdowns in its last four games. In a loss last week at Iowa, they managed 158 yards. They piled up 603 yards against Ohio State. Gardner threw for 451 and four TDS.
Michigan is not Florida State. Devin Gardner is not Jameis Winston.
"We're pretty disappointed," junior linebacker Ryan Shazier said. "We're a lot better than that. We had a bad game today. We had too much emotion in front of us. We've just got to do better."
Ohio State was hardly perfect on Saturday. But it is hard to be perfect. Take that away, and understand the importance of what Ohio State achieved.
"Twelve times two … that's 24 straight wins," said Heuerman, who paused a minute to make sure he got the multiplication correct. "Twenty-four straight wins, that's just something."
So is beating Michigan. Never mind that Ohio State has won 10 of the past 12 – gold-pants charms for every Buckeye, all the time! – or that these Wolverines finished 7-5 and were 16-point underdogs at home. Or that Michigan Stadium had a big swath of empty seats at kickoff, and too much scarlet standing out from the maize and blue in the stands.
"What means more, our 24th win in a row or our second straight win against our rival?" said Meyer, carefully avoiding the name "Michigan." "No question, it's the second win against our rival."
And Heuerman added: "We knew it was gonna be a game. We knew we had to fight. It's a war every time we play that team."
There was, of course, a literal fight, which led to ejections of Ohio State kick returner Dontre Wilson and starting right guard Marcus Hall and Michigan linebacker Royce Jenkins-Stone. As he left the field for the locker room, Hall raised both hands high and flipped off the Michigan fans.
"Disappointing," Meyer said.