Not even the man responsible for the play could describe what just occurred.
“I can’t even tell you how that happened,” Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel said after his team’s 30-27 double-overtime win against Michigan. “I gotta go back and look at that one. I had to go and make a play for my team and it happened.”
No, this wasn’t in reference to Samuel’s walk-off touchdown run, a 15-yard scamper around the left side where he ran untouched into the end zone at Ohio Stadium to seal the Buckeyes’ fifth-straight win against their archrival. This was about two plays earlier when Samuel caught a swing pass from quarterback J.T. Barrett on 3rd-and-9 and was dead to rights.
Jabrill Peppers had Samuel in his sights, 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage. But the Buckeyes’ talented swiss army knife stopped on a dime, reversed fields and started running toward the Ohio State sideline. Samuel cut upfield and was tackled by a gang of Michigan defenders. It was a modest 8-yard gain, but he probably ran close to 40 yards to get it.
The Buckeyes didn’t get a first down on the play, but they would on the next one on a Barrett run — one that would be reviewed and upheld. Samuel scored on the play after that to give Ohio State the win.
But it raised an interesting question: If Samuel didn’t pull out a Houdini act, what happens? Ohio State likely attempts a long field goal — one of the 45-yard variety — to tie the game and kicker Tyler Durbin was just 1-for-3 on the day. Would he make it? If Samuel doesn’t pick up those eight yards, do the Buckeyes even win the game?
“It was not designed for a great athlete to run around that way,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said. “That’s called recruiting.”
“I was worried we were going to be knocked out of field goal range and lose the game, but things happen and he’s one of the best players I’ve ever been around and it’s good to see the ball in his hands near the end of the game.”
Samuel’s 15-yard touchdown run to win the game will be the play shown for years in highlight packages of this game, The Game. But it probably doesn’t happen without his effort two plays before.
That’s what kind of player Samuel is, though, and he’s proven it time and time again this season for the second-ranked Buckeyes. He finished Saturday’s game against Michigan with 91 total yards on 11 touches and he ended the regular-season with 822 receiving yards, 704 rushing yards and 15 total touchdowns.
“I’m glad he’s really, really good,” Barrett said.
It’s been no secret this season for Ohio State: When Samuel touches the ball, good things happen.
And that was certainly the case at the most critical point in the Buckeyes’ season Saturday. Even when it looked like Samuel had no place to go, the Brooklyn native made something out of nothing and got Ohio State into a situation it could handle.
Samuel was the one who then handled things.
“Coaches give me the ball to make plays,” Samuel said. “They don’t give me the ball to go three yards, four yards, two yards.”
“They give me the ball to score.”