Saturday, January 4, 2003

Clarett steps up when Buckeyes need him most

The Associated Press

TEMPE, Ariz. - Miami could only hold down Maurice Clarett for so long.

The freshman knifed his way through the Hurricanes' defense for a 5-yard touchdown run in the second overtime to give Ohio State a 31-24 victory in the Fiesta Bowl and the Buckeyes' first national championship in 34 years.

Ohio State photos
Up until that run, Clarett's biggest play might have come without the ball, when he ripped the ball out of Sean Taylor's hands to wipe out a Miami interception.

Clarett was the most prominent figure all week for his public feud with university officials over the reasons why they refused to allow him to go home to attend a friend's funeral.

There were questions about how focused he would be in a sea of controversy, but the 19-year-old freshman stepped up when his team needed him most.

With the focus of the Miami defense and many of the fans on the talented tailback, Clarett couldn't generate much on the ground all day.

He encountered defenders in the backfield on many of his runs and wasn't able to break a long run like he did most of the year. He ended up with only 47 yards on 23 carries, but scored two touchdowns.

His best run came in overtime when he took a handoff from Craig Krenzel, froze Maurice Sikes with a wicked cutback and stumbled his way into the end zone for the go-ahead score.

After Ohio State's defense made a valiant goal-line stand, Clarett and his teammates ran onto the field in celebration.

Clarett's only contribution in the first half came on a 7-yard scamper that gave the Buckeyes a 14-7 lead with 1:10 to play. He raised the ball to the red-clad crowd full of Buckeyes' fans as he hopped his way to the Ohio State sideline.

Clarett broke free for a few runs in the second half, but it was his tackling that proved almost as important.

With the Buckeyes leading 14-7 and driving for another score, Krenzel was intercepted in the end zone by Taylor.

As Taylor ran up the sideline, Clarett sprinted toward him and wrestled the ball away for a turnover. That set up Mike Nugent's 44-yard field goal to make it 17-7.

Again, Clarett held the ball aloft to the screaming Buckeyes fans. It was one of five turnovers caused by swarming Buckeyes, but this one might have been the most surprising.

One of the top recruits in the country a year ago, Clarett wanted to make an immediate impact at Ohio State. He finished high school a semester early, coming to Columbus to get a head start on his college career.

He participated in spring practice and quickly won the starting job in August.

Clarett makes the Buckeyes go - he ran for 1,190 yards and 14 touchdowns.

But he also caused quite a bit of controversy - stomping on the sideline when he was unhappy with play calls, contemplating leaving school after one year for the NFL and this week when he said school officials lied about why he couldn't go home for Juan Bell's funeral.

Buckeyes are the champs with 31-24 victory
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