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The Battle for Ohio

Buckeyes escape with narrow win

Photos/Carrie Cochran and Andrew Higley

by John Bach

In the end, Ohio State fans strutted from Paul Brown Stadium celebrating yet another win with their signature O-H-I-O chant.

Inside the riverfront stadium, however, OSU fans spent more time holding their breath than puffing out their chests. More than 66,300 fans, the city's largest-ever sports crowd, and a national ESPN audience watched in September [2002] as the UC Bearcats, 18-point underdogs, nearly upset the No. 6-rated Buckeyes. The victory slipped through UC's fingertips -- literally. Final score: 23-19.

"We lost a chance for a monumental win for our program," UC head coach Rick Minter said. "It would have been monumental in what it would have done for our program, for recruiting and for the state. It was a very good show, but as a competitor, I'm ticked off that we didn't win."

The Bearcats set the early tone by taking a quick 9-0 lead. Perhaps the more impressive statistic, however, was that the Bearcats held Ohio State to just one first down and a total of 20 yards in the first quarter. UC's comparative stats were five firsts and 123 yards in the initial 15 minutes.

UC took a 12-7 lead into halftime but couldn't hold OSU off early into the third quarter when the Bucks surged ahead 14-12. A Gino Guidugli touchdown pass to Tye Keith helped the Bearcats reclaim their lead, 19-14, to open the final quarter. The Buckeyes scored on a field goal and eventually took the lead with a touchdown with less than 4 minutes remaining in the game. UC responded with two key drives toward the end zone, but both were stymied by turnovers.

Still Guidugli, already with the fifth 300-yard game of his young career, had a chance to win the game. With less than a minute remaining, UC had a first down at the Ohio State 15-yard line. Twice, Gino's end-zone attempts sailed in and out of Bearcat hands. His fourth-down pass was deflected and intercepted.

Buckeye fans drew a collective breath, and the chant began.

"We played an excellent team," OSU coach Jim Tressel said afterward. "We definitely take our hats off to them. The stadium was an electric environment, and I feel we are very fortunate to leave with a win."

UC and Ohio State won't play the third of their four-game series until September 2004 in Columbus. The first game also took place there in 1999 when the Bearcats fell 34-20 in front of more than 93,000 fans. That was a game UC also led in the first quarter by a score of 17-3. The fourth intra-state meeting is scheduled for 2006 and again at Ohio State. The last time UC and OSU played in Cincinnati was 1911, and no additional games are scheduled for the Queen City.


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