COLUMBUS, Ohio — To say the three biggest heroes in Ohio State’s latest escape were even bit players before Saturday would be giving them benefit of a doubt.
Until last week, fourth-year junior Kenny Guiton had never thrown a touchdown pass let also engineer a comeback victory to preserve a perfect season.When the second half started, you had as many catches this season as Chris Fields. Zero.
And tight end Jeff Heuerman? He wasn’t considered much more than a glorified blocker, especially after the Buckeyes moved fullback Zach Boren to linebacker.
Saturday’s 29-22 victory over Purdue in overtime was not only improbable, it was impossible without those three rising to the occasion and saving what NCAA sanctions have not taken away.
“I wouldn’t call us heroes,” said Heuerman, whose two-point conversion catch from Guiton, tacked on to Fields’ two-yard TD catch from Guiton with 0:02 on the clock, sent the game into OT. “It was a team win, literally … Nothing else.”.
Guiton was playing because of a head injury suffered by Braxton Miller at the end of the third quarter. Fields had a big second half but was probably targeted at the end only because “Philly” Brown left with a bruised noggin of his own. And Heuerman usually plays second fiddle at his position to Jake Stoneburner.But there they were, all in, when the Buckeyes drove 61 yards to the game-tying touchdown in the final 47 seconds, with no timeouts left – and all three seeking atonement.
Guiton wanted another chance for throwing an interception on the Buckeyes’ previous series, Heuerman for an illegal block in the end zone that resulted in a safety and Fields for being nearly invisible the first seven games after starting eight times last season.
“He just changed his whole dynamics,” coach Urban Meyer said, “the way he works, his practice habits and his performance.”.
Meyer was talking about Fields, but that was the same way he profiled Guiton when he first took over the program, before his backup quarterback did a 180 in the spring to match the Buckeyes’ late turnaround against Purdue.
“This is what I play football for, man,” said Guiton, his grin as wide as his home state Texas. “I always wanted a shot and today I got it. You just have to have patience. For young guys, not a lot of young guys have it. I’m not going to say I was always up (about the prospect of playing), but I try not to get down about it.”.
Handing out pink towels before the game to the Ohio Stadium throng in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month was a great gesture for a vital cause.
The towels also gave fans somewhere to bury their faces.
There was a lot of that going on Saturday. Meyer didn’t need a towel. His favorite sideline pose found him bent over, feet splayed, hands on knees, staring glumly at his shoe tops, afraid to look.
When Miller was taken away to the hospital to have his head examined (fortunately, he passed all the tests), Meyer probably felt like climbing in the ambulance with him to have his eyes checked.
Did a Purdue team that gave up 82 points and 1,000 yards the previous two weeks to Michigan and Wisconsin really hold the Buckeyes to zero yards in the second quarter?
Was he seeing double from the Akeems – Akeem Shavers running the wheel route for an 83-yard touchdown on Purdue’s first snap and Akeem Hunt returning a kickoff 100 yards in the first quarter?
Was that the Boilermakers mocking the Buckeyes in that opening period when they tried a fake punt from their own 18 and got it easily?
Was that Miller fumbling twice and the Buckeyes staring at what looked like an insurmountable 20-14 deficit (soon to be 22-14 after the Heuerman penalty) after their Heisman contender left the game?
Yes to all of the above.
“I’m still trying to figure this bad boy out,” Meyer said. “We won, right?”.
For 59 minutes and 57 seconds it didn’t appear so. But turning the game over to the understudies, whether they wanted to do or not, made it possible for the Buckeyes to prevail in OT on the second of Carlos Hyde’s two TDs.
“He meant everything,” Heuerman said of Guiton. “What he did will go down in the record books. I get chills just thinking about it.”.
Adding to the drama was Fields’ diving TD catch, hardly your garden variety grab.
“I don’t know how many people know this, but I used to be a centerfielder and used to dive all over the place,” Fields said. “I’m used to it, man.”.
Hopefully his footwork on fly balls was better than his stumbling, bumbling routine on a 35-yard catch that set up the Buckeyes’ second touchdown. Fields would have scored himself if he hadn’t been tripped by the 10-yard line.
“I haven’t been on the field for awhile,” Fields said. “The turf monster got me.”.
A turf monster, or something, bothered Devin Smith most of the game. But the team’s biggest home run threat outside of Miller finally came out of his funk to make a 39-yard catch to get the game-tying drive started.
Guiton, Fields and Heuerman were there to finish it.
You may never see those three names mentioned in the same sentence again. So savor it.
Jon Spencer writes for the Mansfield (Ohio) News JournalO.