Sunday, January 5, 2003

At moment of truth, 'Canes blinked

The (Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press

TEMPE, Ariz. - As painful as the Fiesta Bowl loss is for Miami fans, students and alumni, we need stories like that, stories like Ohio State slaying the giant.

We need examples of the Buckeyes' faith and belief amidst a desert of doubters. We need to see instances in which such quiet confidence and steely determination is rewarded. We need cases to cite, illustrations to remember and upsets to list.

They prove the power of positive thinking, captured forever in Wally Piper's childhood classic, The Little Engine That Could. As corny as it might seem - 'I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!' - you'd have to be a totally miserable person to rob someone of that belief.

The Buckeyes believed in themselves enough to drag the Hurricanes through a scintillating slugfest that will go down as perhaps the greatest game ever played for the (mythical) national championship. It was thoroughly entertaining, unbelievably dramatic and completely compelling.

And sloppy, too. The Canes' fall had more to do with five turnovers and a non-existent rushing attack, than a suspect pass interference call in overtime. Ohio State needed to keep Miami's offense off the field as much as possible, and shutting down the ground game was huge. The Canes took care of the rest by self-destructing whenever the opportunity arose.

They were better in nearly every major statistical category. They had more first downs, total yards, completions, passing yards and return yardage. They had fewer penalties for less yardage. The time of possession battle was close, OSU with a slight edge at 31:27 to 28:33.

But the Canes blinked at the moment of truth, which is as big a shock as the upset itself.

They stared down defeat against Florida State twice during the 34-game win streak. They held on against Boston College on a miraculous bounce. They avoided overtime against Pittsburgh on a barely overthrown pass.

The other team always broke first, always came up short in fortitude, perseverance or matters of heart. Sometimes it was early, sometimes late. The Buckeyes were supposed to like the rest. If Miami didn't run them off in an anticipated rout - like the Cornhuskers in the Rose Bowl - they'd eventually succumb as the end drew near.

Instead, Ohio State was the more resolute team. Todd Sievers' game-tying field goal with no time left, followed by Kellen Winslow's touchdown catch in overtime, would've sealed the deal for most Miami opponents. Especially a team facing 4th and 14 shortly thereafter.

You can't give up a first down in that situation. A stop there and the Hurricanes don't see another 4th down, a premature celebration and a late penalty flag. A stop there and OSU doesn't work into the position it longed for: a late lead with the defense to protect it. Goal line stand and all.

Thirty-four consecutive wins came to a crashing halt. Larry Coker's career record was sullied for the first time. Miami still hasn't won a Fiesta Bowl and still hasn't repeated as national champion.

Dynasties serve a purpose. They teach about dedication and commitment, about attaining and sustaining a level of excellence. But Ohio State had another lesson plan in mind Friday, one we needed just as much.

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At moment of truth, 'Canes blinked
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