Andy Gottesman / The Lantern
Terrelle Pryor walked off the field, rose tightly clenched by his jaw, reminiscent of how Ohio State scraped by Iowa by the skin of its teeth, sending the Buckeyes to their first Rose Bowl in 12 years.
A 39-yard field goal by 26-year-old walk-on kicker Devin Barclay vaulted the Buckeyes (9-2, 6-1) over the Hawkeyes (9-2, 5-2) in overtime, 27-24, before an Ohio Stadium crowd of 105,455 that poured onto the field following the successful boot.
With the victory, OSU was extended an invite to the Rose Bowl, which it will undoubtedly accept. The Bucks also clinched at least a share of their fifth consecutive Big Ten title.
“They’ve handled adversity and worked hard to get better,” coach Jim Tressel said. “They’ve stayed together. A chance to go to the Rose Bowl for them, none of our kids have gone to the Rose Bowl.”
Tressel will head to Pasadena, Calif., with the Bucks for the first time since he was an assistant coach for OSU in 1985.
His Buckeyes will travel there for the first time since 1997, when they knocked off No. 2 Arizona State.
Iowa certainly didn’t make things easy, though.
A trio of rushing touchdowns sprung OSU out to a 24-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. The Buckeyes relied heavily on the run game throughout, rushing 51 times and passing on only 17 occasions. Still, the one-two punch of Dan Herron and Brandon Saine produced 200 of OSU’s 229 total yards on the ground.
With their backs against the wall, the Hawkeyes got a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, the fourth-longest in Iowa history, to cut the OSU lead to 24-17.
“[The return] was huge,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It was a great effort by the entire special teams group. We didn’t come here expecting to handle the kickoff game as well as we did. Ohio State is always very prepared for that.”
Tressel harped on the momentum swing caused by the poor special teams execution on the kickoff.
“I was a little disappointed after the kickoff return quite honestly,” he said. “You can’t let someone come into your stadium and win the special teams.”
Ohio State quickly moved the ball back into Hawkeye territory, but sputtered when Barclay pulled a 47-yard field goal wide left.
Iowa marched down the field on the ensuing possession, capping an eight-play, 70-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass by redshirt freshman James Vandenberg to tie the game. Vandenberg, making his first career start while filling in for injured starter Ricky Stanzi, seemed poised for most of the contest, throwing for 233 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“That guy had an arm on him and he made us pay for our mistakes,” senior safety Kurt Coleman said. “He was unbelievable.”
The Buckeyes failed to convert on a two-minute drill, sending the game into overtime, the first contest with an extra period in The Horseshoe since 2003.
Iowa started with the football, but couldn’t advance the ball. Following an incompletion, running back Adam Robinson was stopped six yards behind the line of scrimmage by OSU senior linebacker Austin Spitler.
On third-and-16, senior Doug Worthington sacked Vandenberg for a loss of 10, the first time the Buckeyes brought down the Hawkeye hurler all day.
“James played a heck of a game,” Ferentz said. “It wasn’t unexpected. We know what he is capable of. We couldn’t have walked him into a tougher environment. Ohio State is a great team and this is a tough place to play. But James played with mental and physical toughness.”
Out of field goal range, Iowa sent its offense out on fourth-and-26. Vandenberg heaved a Hail Mary into the end zone, only to be intercepted by senior Anderson Russell, who nabbed two picks in the game.
The Buckeyes assumed possession and used three Herron rushes to set up Barclay’s season-defining kick. Once it sailed safely between the uprights, masses of fans, many grasping roses, joined the team at midfield in celebration.
“Tonight’s win was a storybook ending,” Worthington said. “We didn’t play the best game, but together we made a team effort at the end and pulled through with a victory. We feel like we’re on top of the world.”
Following the game, Jeff Throop, Acting President of the Tournament of Roses, presented Tressel with a bouquet of roses and an invite to “The Granddaddy of Them All.”
The Buckeyes will await their opponent, likely the winner of the Pac-10.
For now, Ohio State can capture the outright Big Ten championship with a win against rival Michigan next Saturday in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines (5-6, 1-6) need a victory to become bowl eligible.
“We’re not worried about the bowl game right now, we’re just worried about Michigan,” senior Lawrence Wilson said. “Michigan is a good team and it’s a huge rivalry. It’s the biggest rivalry in sports – Michigan and Ohio State.”