One yard was all it took to keep Ohio State’s season intact.
“I had confidence in the play and I know my teammates had confidence in me,” senior running back Chip Trayanum said after scoring the winning touchdown in Notre Dame Stadium Saturday.
On third down with the game on the line, the No. 6 Buckeyes took position just 1 yard away from a win against No. 9 Notre Dame.
“Not only did we need to get that yard for our program, but I felt like it was the right thing to do schematically,” head coach Ryan Day said.
With 8:22 to play in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame’s graduate quarterback Sam Hartman — who leads all current college quarterbacks in career touchdowns with 123 — got the Irish their first lead of the night at 14-10.
After back-to-back no-score drives by either team, quarterback Kyle McCord and the Buckeyes got a chance to put their two-minute drill preparation to the test, with 65 yards to go and 1:26 on the clock.
“We’re never out of it until there’s no time left on the clock,” McCord said. “As long as we got the ball and we got some time left, the sky’s the limit for this offense.”
In what could have been his last play on third-and-10, McCord found junior receiver Emeka Egbuka downfield for a 23-yard gain, resulting in an Ohio State first down on the Notre Dame 42-yard line.
“There were some really clutch catches out there — certainly Emeka had a big one,” Day said.
Yet again, McCord and the Buckeyes were faced with a third-and-long with 37 yards left to go.
With 51 seconds on the clock, graduate linebacker J.D. Bertrand broke up a McCord pass, creating a dramatic fourth-and-7 situation.
Wide receiver Julian Fleming, who only caught one pass prior on the night, was found to the right for a 7-yard pickup — just what the Buckeyes needed.
“We were heading back to our training,” McCord said. “It was my job to get the ball in the hands of the playmakers and let them do special things, and that’s exactly what it was.”
McCord eventually found junior receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. on second-and-10 at the Irish 13-yard line for a 19-yard gain. When the two tried for another connection, Notre Dame’s sophomore cornerback was credited his second pass breakup of the night.
On second-and-10 with 15 seconds to play, McCord was sacked and called for intentional grounding, pushing Ohio State back to the 22-yard line.
Notre Dame Stadium erupted and Ohio State was faced with another third-and-long.
McCord found Egbuka for a 21-yard advantage, leaving the Buckeyes with a single yard to gain and seven seconds on the clock.
“At that point, you’re just playing backyard football,” McCord said. “Just giving your guy a chance to go make a big play, and that’s exactly what he [Egbuka] did.”
McCord spiked the ball with seven seconds left. Ohio State looked to Harrison for the game-winning touchdown, but the ball fell incomplete.
Three seconds on the clock.
With a rush up the middle, touchdown Trayanum. Maybe.
The touchdown was reviewed as Trayanum’s knee looked to touch the ground before the ball broke the plane.
After a minute of review and tension in the air, the call was confirmed: touchdown for the Buckeyes.
“I knew I was definitely in. It was close, but as a running back you live for runs like that — nitty-gritty runs,” Trayanum said. “The runs where you’re fighting with your body to stay up, making sure nothing touches.”
McCord finished the game with 240 yards and a 55 percent completion rate — his lowest as the starter, but in a game that meant the most.
“I think it’s going to go down as one of the big wins in Ohio State history,” Day said. “It was one of the clutch fourth down comebacks on the road in a top-10 environment.”