Remembering Ohio State’s 2002 Victory Over Purdue: 10 Years On
In a season of nail-biting contests, it can be argued that the 2002 Ohio State football team experienced its most dramatic encounter on a chilly November afternoon in West Lafayette.
Entering the game at 10-0 and coming off a rather routine 34-3 victory over a ranked Minnesota squad, the Buckeyes were full of confidence as they travelled to Purdue for their sixth Big Ten game of the year.
The Boilermakers’ season had been much less successful; they were 4-6 overall and 2-3 in the Big Ten heading into the game.
All things considered, Jim Tressel’s team entered the game as huge favorites – but the game would turn out to be anything but one-sided.
From the onset, the game was set up as a defensive struggle. On its first drive, the Purdue offense made it all the way down inside the Buckeyes 20-yard line, only for quarterback Kyle Orton to be picked off in the endzone by safety Dustin Fox.
Craig Krenzel and the Ohio State offense didn’t fare much better on its first attempt to score – in fact it ended the exact same fashion. The Buckeyes hadn’t even gotten to midfield before Krenzel’s deflected pass fell into the hands of linebacker Niko Koutouvides. It would be Krenzel’s only interception of the game, but it wouldn’t be the last time his offense was frustrated by Purdue.
Offensive inefficiencies on the day for Ohio State were the result of Maurice Clarett’s limited involvement. Having failed to recover from the injury that kept him out the previous week against Minnesota, the tailback was relatively ineffective as he rushed for only 52 yards on 14 attempts.
Purdue then came down the field once again, but the terrific Buckeye defense again had an answer for it once the Boilermakers got close to the goal line. This time, though, there was no turnover, and the home team put the first points on the board and took a 3-0 lead after one quarter.
When it had the ball again, the stellar Ohio State offense was again thwarted by an exceptional home defense – cheered on by a raucous crowd; the second-largest of the season at Ross-Ade Stadium.
Berin Lacevic, the Purdue kicker who made his first field goal attempt, stepped up for a 36-yard try, but missed right.
Both teams traded fruitless possessions: Clarett was stopped on a third-down rush, and Orton was picked off once again, this time by Matt Wilhelm.
With only minutes left in the first half, Ohio State made it inside the Boilermaker red zone once again. Krenzel scrambled on third down, but was stopped short of the first down line. With no timeouts and time running out in the first half, kicker Mike Nugent hustled onto the field and converted his field goal try with a second to spare, infuriating the Purdue bench who thought time had run out. Regardless, it was 3-3 at halftime in what already was a terrific contest.
Purdue coach Joe Tiller made the biggest change during halftime, replacing quarterback Kyle Orton with regular starter Brandon Kirsch, who was benched for injuring himself at a frat party the week before. No joke.
But no matter which quarterback the Boilermakers sent out, they had no way to get past the Ohio State defense. The same went for when the visitors had the ball, and the third quarter passed without any scoring or incident.
The final quarter did bring drama though, and lots of it. After a few possessions, Purdue made the big play it needed – Kirsch hitting wide receiver Ray Williams for 59 yards. That gave the Boilermakers the ball deep in the Buckeye half, but the defense that would save the Scarlet & Gray so many times that season did so again. Wilhelm – the man already with an interception – burst through the Boilermaker offensive line and sacked Kirsch on third down. It was up to Lacevic to redeem himself after his earlier miss, and he did just that. The underdog Purdue Boilermakers lead 6-3.
Krenzel and co. couldn’t do anything in reply, but a terrific Andy Groom punt put Purdue right in front of its own goal line, and the Boilermakers couldn’t gain the first down that might have proved critical.
After Chris Gamble returned the punt to about the 50, a 4-yard loss and an incompletion presented Ohio State with a 3rd and 14 with just over two minutes to play. But Krenzel found the reliable tight end Ben Hartsock – though he could only get within a yard of the marker. The ensuing play would define Ohio State’s season.
With Clarett out of the ballgame, Tressel elected to go to the air. “King Right 64 Y Shallow Swap”. The play was really designed to hit Hartsock across the middle and gain the necessary yards, but No. 88 found himself well covered, and Krenzel was left with one option: Michael Jenkins.
Even watching the play today one still can feel the tension: Under pressure, under two minutes left and an unbeaten record on the line, the Buckeye quarterback simply stepped up and lofted a perfect throw over the shoulder of the defender and into the gracious chest of Jenkins. 10-6 Ohio State. The play was truly sensational, and it even prompted Brent Musberger two utter those two iconic words. ”Holy Buckeye!”
The game wasn’t over yet, and Tiller elected to bring in Orton once again to try and save the game. But – just like it had all afternoon – the Buckeye defense saved the day. Orton’s long bomb was intercepted by the amazing Chris Gamble, and Ohio State had pulled out one of its most dramatic victories of all-time all the while improving to 11-0.
All of Buckeye nation was jubilant in the aftermath. How could any game compare to that one? Well, if only they knew what heart-stopping moments were to come in the team’s next three games, maybe they’d have realized that the year was about to get much, much better.