FINDLAY, Ohio – How intense is the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry? Just how rabid are the fans? If you stumbled upon Donnell Stadium in Findlay on this mid-June day, you would have been given a resounding answer varying from very to unbelievably.
Inside Ohio’s borders, the state that shares a 73-mile border to the north receives 365 days of attention each year. So when Michigan topped Ohio 27-14 in the inaugural Ohio-Michigan Border Classic, it came as little surprise that the players from the Buckeye State were not thrilled.
“I’m not going to forget this,” said Glenville cornerback Erick Smith, who enrolls at Ohio State Sunday.
“We’re getting a W in November,” added Glenville and Ohio State teammate Marshon Lattimore, a wide receiver and cornerback.
Ohio State’s won consecutive games against its archrival and 11 of the past 13, but any ammunition is welcomed in Columbus. It wouldn’t be Ohio and Michigan without tension. Maybe honorary captains Earle Bruce and John Wangler ratcheted up in the intensity. Whatever it was, the passion was palpable.
Multiple plays ended with frequent whistles and officials separating players. Lattimore had his helmet ripped off by in one scrum. Smith, who finished with six tackles, delivered a bone-jarring hit that was frowned upon by Team Michigan. But it was all in the name of playing football if you asked the players.
“It was just being competitive,” said Lattimore, Team Ohio’s offensive MVP with eight catches for 99 yards. “It’s nothing personal. We’re out there competing with one another. It’s just a game.”
For large portions, it was a sloppy game. On Wednesday, the head coaches spoke confidently about installing offenses in just two days. However, it took all of one possession to realize the play would be far from pristine. There were dropped passes, fumbles and miscommunication from the offensive lines.
The first completed pass didn’t come until the midway point of the first quarter. By then, there was already an interception. From the outset, the offenses were at a distinct disadvantage.
Neither team gained 300 yards of total offense, there were a combined 69 yards lost on sacks and the teams were just 3 of 24 on third-down conversions. Five turnovers – four from Ohio, including two fumbles by Lattimore – were further proof of the uneven performance.
“I thought both teams represented themselves well with only a couple days of practice,” said Ohio head coach Mike Fell, the head coach at Lima Senior. “Good physical, hard-hitting game. Both teams played hard, both teams tackled well. Unfortunately, we just didn’t get it done.”
Many would call it an expected result. Ohio is one of the top football producing states in the country, while Michigan is routinely subpar. In 2014, Ohio is sending 159 players to FBS schools. Michigan barely has half that number – 82.
The Border Classic began with 40-man rosters, but they were trimmed due to players who pulled out of the game. Ohio only had 30 players on game day – 18 going to FBS programs. Michigan had 39 players, 28 attending FBS schools.
For one day, Michigan high school football conquered Ohio.
“Our one goal was to win,” said future Michigan linebacker Jared Wangler, son of former Michigan quarterback John Wangler. “It’s a great feeling to beat Ohio. They had a great team. There’s a lot of talent that comes out of Ohio, so it was a great feeling to beat them.”
Wangler admitted Ohio’s team was shorthanded and devoid of many of the state’s top players. Michigan had similar absences, though, leading Wangler to believe the rosters evened out.
The feelings were mixed on the Ohio sideline. Even before the game, Smith said there was a feeling they would have to play more soundly and give better effort than Michigan because of a lack of depth and a handful of Ohio’s best players.
“We were missing a lot of players from our team,” he said. “We didn’t have our whole team, so this isn’t a representation of Ohio football at all. We still came into the game knowing we could win. The mentality didn't change.
“We came up short, but we gave all of our effort with the people we had.”
When you grow up in a win or else culture, losing always stings. That’s how Lattimore viewed the result, all-star game or not.
“I’m never happy when we lose,” he said. “I could have played better, the team could have played better. But I’m never happy when we lose.”
Some recruiting services had Lattimore and Smith ranked as the top two players in Ohio for the Class of 2014. Their talent was evident, with Lattimore consistently making players miss with the football in his hands and Michigan staying away from Smith’s side of the field on pass plays.
The Glenville duo will report to Ohio State Sunday, but they never considered skipping the game. And if they had, Ted Ginn Sr. would have made sure it didn’t happen.
“Sometimes kid don’t really know when they’re putting their name on something,” he said. “They played in the first annual Ohio-Michigan game, which is huge. Some day they can show their kids and grandkids they started this all-star game.
“It’s all about Ohio. This is just the beginning of you starting your brand. You get to represent your state and where you come from. The Big 33 was a big game, and I feel the Ohio-Michigan game is the same thing. Anytime you get a chance to be the example for other people and be a leader in the state of Ohio, you have to do that.”
Wangler would agree, except he’d swap out example for beat.
“This is a great feeling,” he said. “I hope I get used to this feeling the next four years. I feel like we’re going to shock a lot of people [next season].”