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College Football Classic Rewind: Spartans Shock Top-Ranked Buckeyes in Columbus

Posted on September 28, 2011 by A.J. Foss

During the mid-1990s, the Ohio State Buckeyes had some great teams go through most of the regular season undefeated only to have their arch rival, the Michigan Wolverines, spoil the Buckeyes’ dreams of a national title on three occasions.

But perhaps the Buckeyes’ most heartbreaking loss during this time period came at the hands of that other football team from Michigan.

The 1998 season was the 11th season for John Cooper as the Ohio State head coach as he had complied an 86-32-4 record during his 10 years in Columbus.

Despite his success, Cooper was not embraced by the Buckeye faithful as he had only defeated Michigan once in his first 10 meetings with the Wolverines and was 2-7 in bowl games.

But in 1998, it appeared that the stars were lining up for Cooper and Ohio State to have a magical season.

The Buckeyes began the season as the #1 team ranked in the country because of the 17 returning starters on offense and defense that included quarterback Joe Germaine, wide receiver David Boston, and linebacker Andy Kaztenmoyer.

Through the first two months of the season, Ohio State was dominant as they won their first eight games of the season by a combined score of 306-72.

As the Buckeyes entered the month of November, it appeared that their only obstacle would be arch-rival Michigan on the last game of the season in a game that would be played in Columbus.

So as Ohio State entered their home game with Michigan State on November 7, 1998, it seemed the only question was by how many points would the Buckeyes win over the Spartans.

It appeared that the Spartans were headed for another mediocre season under head coach Nick Saban, who had only gone 19-15-1 in his first three seasons in East Lansing, and were 4-4 at this point of the 1998 season.

The Spartans did have some talent such as sophomore wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who would break the Michigan State season record for receptions, and linebacker Julian Peterson, a junior college transfer from the Valley Forge Military Academy.

Despite the talent they had, the Spartans were not given a chance at all to knock off the top-ranked Buckeyes as they entered the game as a 28-point underdog.

The Buckeyes got the ball the first and promptly drove down the Spartans’ six-yard-line in just four plays until the Spartans’ defense held firm and forced a field goal attempt from kicker Daniel Stultz, which he made from 20 yards out, to put Ohio State out in front 3-0 just 2:34 into the game.

Michigan State answered Ohio State’s field goal with a field goal of their own, a 33-yarder from Paul Edinger, which was set up by a 32-yard catch by Burress, to tie the game at 3 midway through the first quarter.

It only take the Buckeyes five plays to score again, this time a 41-yard touchdown reception by tight end John Lumpkin, to put Ohio State back in the lead at 10-3.

Late in the first quarter, the Buckeyes’ defense made its presence felt when cornerback Antoine Winfield sacked quarterback Bill Burke and forced a fumble that was recovered by Ohio State at the Spartans’ 11-yard-line.

Four runs by Michael Wiley, the last run being from one yard out and for a touchdown, increased the Buckeyes’ lead to 17-3 with 39 seconds left in the first quarter.

Nick Saban was at the helm of Michigan State's momentous upset over the #1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.

As the second quarter began, it appeared things would not get better for the Spartans has they appeared to be stopped at midfield on a 3rd-and-2, but a roughing-the-passer penalty gave Michigan State a first down at the Buckeyes’ 35-yard-line.

The Spartans would gain eight more yards before Edinger came onto kick his second field goal of the game, a 44-yarder to cut Ohio State’s lead to 17-6 with 13:31 left in the second quarter.

Then on the second play of the ensuing Ohio State possession, the Buckeyes turned the ball over when Germaine was sacked by Peterson, forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Spartans at the Ohio State 28-yard-line.

The Spartans converted the turnover into points as Edinger kicked a 22-yard field goal to trim the lead to 17-9.

Ohio State would have one more scoring opportunity before the end of the half as they drove from their own 30-yard-line to the Spartans’ 21-yard-line, but the Michigan State defense came up big for the third time in the first half as they forced the Buckeyes out of field goal range to keep the score at 17-9 as the first half came to an end.

After both teams punted on their first possessions of the second half, the Spartans drove to the Buckeyes’ 33-yard-line until Burke was intercepted by safety Damon Moore, who returned it 73 yards for the touchdown to give Ohio State their largest lead of the game at 24-9 with 9:51 to go in the third quarter.

Then when the Buckeyes’ defense forced a three-and-out on the Spartans next offensive possession, it appeared that Ohio State were on their way to putting the game out of reach and securing their ninth victory of the season.

But disaster struck for Ohio State on the punt when the ball touched a Buckeye player and was recovered by Michigan State at the Ohio State 49-yard-line.

Four plays later, Burke connected with Lavaile Richardson for a 23-yard touchdown, but only trimmed the lead to 24-15 as Edinger missed the extra point.

On the Buckeyes’ ensuing drive, Ohio State fumbled the ball for the third time after Peterson stripped Wiley of the ball on the second play of the drive.

Josh Shaw recovered it for the Spartans to give Michigan State the ball at the Buckeyes’ 34-yard-line.

The Spartans could only gain two yards after the fumble, but Edinger come on to make his fourth field goal of the game, this one from 49 yards out, to cut the deficit to 24-18 with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Spartan linebacker Julian Peterson harassed Ohio State quarterback Joe Germaine all day long.

Then after forcing a Buckeyes punt, the Spartans got the ball back on that their own 8-yard-line and were able to drive to the Ohio State 12-yard-line, thanks to three straight completions from Burke that accounted for 72 yards.

That is where running back Sedrick Irvin got the ball three straight times, the last carry being an three-yard touchdown and with Edinger’s successful extra point, Michigan State had their first lead of the game at 25-24, with 14:20 to play in the fourth quarter.

Now behind for the first time in the fourth quarter all season, the Buckeyes needed to get their offense back on track as they had produced zero points since the first quarter.

But once again Peterson forced another fumble when he hit Germaine on a 3rd-and-3 at the Ohio State 40-yard-line and Shaw recovered it for the Spartans, who returned it to the Buckeyes’ 18-yard-line.
Michigan State could not gain a first down but Edinger came on to kick his fifth field goal of the game, this one being a 42-yarder, to increase the Spartan lead to 28-24 with 9:26 left in the fourth quarter.

Following their fourth turnover of the game, the Buckeyes went to the ground game and ran the ball 11 straight times for 44 yards until they faced a 4th-and-2 at the Spartans’ 37-yard-line.

Cooper decided to go for the first down and ran the ball for the 12th straight play but running back Joe Montgomery was stopped by T.J. Turner short of the first down to give the Spartans the ball and a chance to run out the clock with 3:33 left in the game.

The Spartans could only get one first down but forced the Buckeyes to burn their remaining timeouts until they punted the ball back to Ohio State.

But after a 25-yard punt return by David Boston and two straight passes for 44 yards, the Buckeyes were at the Spartans’ 15-yard-line with 1:29 to play.

With the Buckeyes on the verge of the go-ahead touchdown, Saban called timeout and decided that if the Spartans were going to hold on and keep Ohio State out of the end zone, they would did by blitzing Germaine on every play.

Three straight blitzes lead to three incomplete passes and the Buckeyes were faced with a 4th-and-10 with the ball still at the 15-yard-line.

Germaine took the snap and dropped back to pass, in the face of yet another Spartan blitz, to launch a pass toward the left corner of the end zone, intended for Dee Miller.

But Spartan cornerback Renaldo Hill jumped in front of the pass and picked it off for the Spartans’ fifth and final takeaway to give Michigan State the ball with 1:12 to play.

Burke then ran out the clock to give the Spartans a 28-24 win in the biggest upset in school history.

While the Spartans would finish the season at 6-6 and out of a bowl game, the shocking upset seemed to propel Michigan State on to the next level as they went 10-2 and finished ranked in the top 10 for the first time since 1987.

However, the Spartans would lose Burress as he declared for the NFL after the season and Saban would leave to take the head coaching job at LSU.

As for Ohio State, they finished the season 11-1 and ranked as the #2 team in the country after a win over Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl.

But things went downhill for Cooper the following season as the Buckeyes finished 6-6 and failed to play in a bowl game for the first time since 1988, Cooper’s first season as head coach.

While the Buckeyes rebounded to finish 8-4 in 2000, another loss to Michigan and another bowl loss marked the end for Cooper as he was fired the day after his Buckeyes lost to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.

Although his final record at Ohio State was 111-43-4, Cooper’s legacy in Columbus his 2-10-1 record against Michigan, a 3-8 bowl record, and having four undefeated teams lose in the month of November.

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