|New Orleans , LA–
Les Miles unleashed an ear-piercing whoop, then leaned back and exhaled as if he had been holding his breath all night.
“I just had to do that,” the LSU coach said. Easy for him to say, now that he has the BCS national championship trophy.
Then, it was time for LSU’s defense to make the big play. Cornerback Chevis Jackson intercepted Boeckman’s loss toss and streaked 34 yards down the right sideline.
In a season of surprises, this was hardly an upset: Ohio State once again fell apart in college football’s biggest game.
A year after Tim Tebow and Florida 41-14 in the Arizona desert routed the Buckeyes, they barely did better.
The only difference this time is LSU didn’t eliminate all the doubters. Playing at their home-away-from-home in the Big Easy, the Tigers (12-2) became the first two-loss team to compete for the title.
Still, LSU was a runaway No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll. The Tigers received 60 of 65 first-place votes from a national media panel. Georgia, Southern California, Missouri and Ohio State rounded out the top five. Georgia had three first-place votes while Southern Cal and No. 7 Kansas each had one.
Matt Flynn Holds the LSC BSC Title Trophy
While Miles got to hoist the $30,000 crystal prize, surely many fans around the country were wondering if someone else was equally worthy.
The top six teams in the final AP poll all had two losses and Kansas had one. “Certainly there will be some argument as to who’s the best team. But I think the national champion has been crowned tonight,” Miles said. “I have give great credit to some divine intervention that allows us to be in this position.”
Shouts of “SEC! SEC!” bounced around the Superdome as the Tigers won their second BCS crown in five seasons. They are the first school to win a second title since BCS rankings began with the 1998 season.
“My team is the No. 1 team in the land,” said All-American defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, who passed up the NFL draft to return for his senior season. LSU rallied from an early 10-0 deficit, taking a 24-10-halftime lead that held up.
“We just didn’t do the things you need to do to win a ballgame of this nature. We’re very aware that LSU’s a deserving champion,” Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said.
Jacob Hester bulled for a short touchdown, Early Doucet wiggled loose for a touchdown and Dorsey led a unit that outplayed the top-ranked defense in the nation.
Ohio State (11-2) had little to celebrate after Chris “Beanie” Wells broke loose for a 65-yard TD run on the fourth play of the game.
“It’s unbelievable to know you’ve failed two years in a row,” Wells said. LSU, whose two losses both came in triple overtime, became just the fourth favorite to win in 10 BCS championship games. The Tigers added to the crown they won in 2003 – their other national championship came in 1958.
“We came out here with the right frame of mind. We kept hanging in there,” Flynn said. Miles probably got a little extra satisfaction, too. Though he turned down a chance to return home to Michigan, he did something his alma mater hasn’t done recently – beat the Buckeyes.
The loss left Ohio State at 0-9 overall in bowl games against teams from the Southeastern Conference. The SEC delights in whipping Big Ten teams in what’s become a rivalry that steams up fans on both sides.
Better on offence and defense, the Tigers got two big plays on special teams – Ricky Jean-Francois blocked a field goal, and LSU took advantage of a roughing-the-kicker penalty.
Flynn hit Doucet with a four-yard toss with 9:04 left for a 31-10 lead and the celebration was on in earnest. The Buckeyes made the score more respectable on Todd Boeckman’s five-yard TD pass on fourth down to Brian Robiskie, only to have Flynn come back and throw his second TD pass to Richard Dickson.
Flynn finished 19-for-27 for 174 yards and was picked the game’s most outstanding offensive player.
As the clock ticked down, Boeckman threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Brian Hartline. Ohio State was trying to win its second BCS title in six years, and add to the one that Tressel captured by upsetting Miami 31-24 in double overtime for the 2002 championship.
For sure, the Buckeyes were perhaps the most-maligned No. 1 team in recent memory; with critics attacking them all season. Tressel gave his players a 10-minute DVD filled with insults hurled at them by television and radio announcers, hoping it would motivate his team.
Instead, the Tigers ravaged the nation’s best defense and showed that maybe all those naysayer were right.
“I worry about disappointment because of how hard the kids work. I don’t worry about criticism,” Tressel said. “If you struggle taking criticism, you better not be at Ohio State and better not be playing football.”
Known as a punishing runner, Wells got the game off to a quick start. On the fourth play from scrimmage, the Buckeyes’ bruising back started left, made a nifty cut right and burst through the middle.
Wells was gone, off on the longest run of his career. And so much for SEC speed – Wells outran All-America safety Craig Steltz for 65-yard TD.
Wells was welcomed by a familiar face once he got back to the sideline. Miami Dolphins receiver Ted Ginn Jr., wearing scarlet and grey Mardi Gras beads, knew all about early strikes. He provided Ohio State’s only highlight in last year’s BCS title game, returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
This time, Ohio State made it 10-0 on its next possession. Boeckman hit a wide-open Brandon Saine for 44 yards, setting up Ryan Pretorius’ 25-yard field goal. Only five minutes into the game, Ohio State and its all-brass band was blowing away the Tigers. LSU looked dazed and defensive co-ordinator Bo Pelini – who now becomes Nebraska’s full-time coach – had few answers.
Fortunately for the Tigers, their offence started clicking. On a team full of flash, it was the reliable old’ Hester who settled down LSU.
First, he barreled into All-America linebacker James Laurinaitis for a short gain. Both players are the rugged type and in a nice show of sportsmanship, Laurinaitis – whose dad, Joe, once starred as “Animal” in the “Legion of Doom” wrestling tag team – helped up Hester.
Hester broke off a 20-yard run on the next play, and LSU eventually got a 32-yard field goal from Colt David that made it 10-3.
That score late in the first quarter seemed to jazz everyone in purple and gold. The Tigers zoomed into fast motion; the band’s Golden Girls suddenly put more bounce in their step and thousands of fans started screaming even louder.
Flynn also seemed to recognize exactly what Ohio State was trying to do. LSU quarterbacks spend a lot of time with an Xbox, playing a custom-made video game to read defenses. Apparently, what worked on the screen did even better on the field.
Two big penalties against Ohio State helped set up Flynn’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Dickson, who somehow found himself uncovered. Flynn punctuated the strike by hollering, giving a wild fist pump and putting up both hands to signal TD.
Tied at 10, the Buckeyes counted on Wells. He delivered one of the season’s best stiff-arms on a 29-yard romp, and Ohio State seemed poised to retake the lead. Instead, Jean-Francois crashed through the middle, swung his big right arm and blocked Pretorius’ 38-yard field goal try.
As Ohio State trudged off the field and LSU ran on, it was all over. It only took a while to confirm it. “We had a chance early and a chance later. LSU just made too many plays,” Laurinaitis said.
LSU turned to another of its five dangerous tailbacks, and NCAA sprint star Trindon Holliday zigzagged closer to the goal line. Flynn’s perfect pass to Brandon LaFell in the back left corner of the end zone put the Tigers ahead 17-10.
The second-ranked Tigers danced, dodged and darted their way into the end zone Monday night, turning the title game into a horrible replay for No. 1 Ohio State. It was over early; with Matt Flynn throwing four touchdown passes in a 38-24 win.