The Ghosts of Fiesta Bowls Past: Heroes and Villains of Ohio State's Trips to the Desert

By Michael Citro on December 15, 2015 at 10:10 am
The heroes and villains of Ohio State's Fiesta Bowl appearances.

In December, I always get into the Christmas spirit. The holiday was always big in my house growing up and I loved all the traditions: trimming the tree, Christmas carols, a month’s worth of animated Christmas specials, and all the classics.

In the spirit of A Christmas Carol, and with a date with Notre Dame coming up in the desert after we ring in the new year, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to take a look back at the ghosts of Fiesta Bowls past — both the good and the bad.  

1980: Curt Warner and Art Schlichter

In Ohio State’s first appearance in the desert, the Buckeyes led pre-Big Ten Penn State 19-10 at the half, but surrendered three unanswered touchdowns after the break and fell, 31-19. Tailback Curt Warner was a thorn in Ohio State’s side, scoring a 64-yard touchdown just 1:07 into the game, and rushing 18 times for 155 yards.

Schlichter, quarterbacking the Buckeyes in a bowl game for the third straight season, completed 20 of 35 passes for 302 yards and three touchdowns against only one interception. Doug Donley caught two of those touchdown passes, for covering 23 and 19 yards. Gary Williams caught the other, going 33 yards. Both receivers finished with more than 100 receiving yards in the game.

1984: John Congemi and Thad Jemison

The Buckeyes got their first win in the Fiesta Bowl, 28-23, in dramatic fashion, scoring the winning touchdown in the game’s final minute — just moments after surrendering Pittsburgh’s first lead of the game. Quarterback John Congemi had a fantastic game for the Panthers, completing 31 of 44 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns; although he was picked off twice. He also rushed six times for 20 yards.  Congemi drove his team to a go-ahead field goal with under three minutes to play.

Jemison, Ohio State’s top receiver in the game, caught a Fiesta Bowl-record eight passes for 131 yards and scored the winning touchdown with 39 seconds left in the game. Jemison’s heroics won him the game’s MVP award, which also could have gone to Keith Byars, who rushed 15 times for 73 yards and a touchdown, returned a kickoff 99 yards for another score, and caught two passes for 21 yards.

2003: Ken Dorsey and Mike Doss

The Buckeyes upset the favored Miami Hurricanes in double-overtime, 31-24, winning Jim Tressel a national championship in the process. The Canes were led by quarterback Ken Dorsey, who completed 28 of 43 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns. He also tossed a pair of interceptions.

One of those interceptions went to safety Mike Doss, who returned it 35 yards. The senior defensive stalwart was second on the team with nine tackles and had half a tackle for loss. Doss’ leadership, hard hitting and sure tackling led a swarming Ohio State defense that wore Miami out.

2004: Ell Roberson and Michael Jenkins

Ohio State made it three straight Fiesta Bowl victories, building a 35-14 lead over the Kansas State Wildcats and holding on to win, 35-28. Quarterback Ell Roberson led Kansas State with 20/51 passing for 294 yards and also ran for 32 yards and two touchdowns. Roberson was the Wildcats offense, as the Buckeyes shut down tailback Darren Sproles, holding him to 38 yards and a touchdown.

Buckeye wide receiver Michael Jenkins caught five of Craig Krenzel’s 11 completions for 96 yards and two touchdowns. His second quarter touchdown catch covered 17 yards to make it 21-0 at the time. His second score went eight yards and stopped a 14-0 run by the Wildcats, making it 28-14 late in the third quarter.

2006: Darius Walker and Ted Ginn Jr.

We’ve been talking about this one since the 2015 bowl pairings came out. The Buckeyes dominated Charlie Weis’ Notre Dame Fighting Irish, winning 34-20 in a game that wasn’t really that close. Running back Darius Walker was Notre Dame’s most effective player, carrying 16 times for 90 yards and all three Irish touchdowns. He also caught seven passes for 37 yards, as Ohio State’s defense took away Brady Quinn’s deep threats and forced him to check down with a fierce pass rush that registered five sacks.

On Ohio State’s side, Ted Ginn Jr. was lethal. Ginn finished with eight receptions for 167 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown. He also rushed twice for 73 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown. About the only place on the field he didn't punish Notre Dame was on punt returns, where he gained 20 yards on two attempts. Still, his 260 yards and two scores stood out on a day when Troy Smith threw for 342 yards and two touchdowns.

2009: Colt McCoy and Terrelle Pryor

The four-game winning streak in the Fiesta Bowl came to a gut-wrenching end, with the Texas Longhorns scoring the winning touchdown with 16 seconds to play, eking out a 24-21 win. Colt McCoy was outstanding for the Horns, completing 41 of 58 passing attempts for 414 yards and two touchdowns with just one interception. McCoy, who also ran for a 14-yard touchdown, hit Quan Cosby for the game-winning score to break Buckeye hearts.

Pryor was a workhorse for Ohio State. He only completed five of his 13 pass attempts for 66 yards, but he also rushed 15 times for 78 yards and caught a five-yard touchdown pass from Todd Boeckman. If not for his two sacks for minus-26 yards, his rushing total would have been only two yards behind Beanie Wells’ 106, on three fewer carries. He was one player Texas had no answer for, although Brian Robiskie had a nice game with five receptions for 116 yards.

There you have it — the heroes and villains of Ohio State’s six past Fiesta Bowl games. Who will make their mark on the 2016 version? We’ll find out in a couple of weeks.

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