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In coach and Clarett, national audience gets an eyeful of the Valley



Published: Fri, January 4, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



By ROB TODOR

VINDICATOR SPORTS EDITOR

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Now, the rest of the country knows what was the Mahoning Valley's secret all these years.

Jim Tressel solidified his place in Ohio State sports lore Friday night in the Arizona desert, guiding the underdog Buckeyes to the pinnacle of college football.

Ohio State defeated Miami 31-24 in double overtime in the 32nd Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, using the same formula that Youngstown State fans knew for the 15 seasons Tressel was the coach here -- a dominating defense, a mistake-free offense and special teams that make a difference. The winning touchdown came in a 5-yard run by Warren Harding grad and OSU freshman Maurice Clarett.

The sign outside may have read "Sun Devil Stadium," but inside and around it was West Columbus.

Buckeye fans by the thousands filled the football home of Arizona State University, and thousands more were in the surrounding parking lots, and at hotels and sports nightclubs throughout the Valley of the Sun, and their loud support was a key factor in the Buckeyes' victory, which resulted in the championship of the Bowl Championship Series.

National audience

Ninety minutes before kickoff, a wave of "Let's Go Bucks" echoed through the venue, which was dressed up for a national television audience, and when the "Best Damn Band in the Land" struck up the first notes of "Across the Field" the edifice shook in thunderous response.

And when the band took the field for its pre-game performance, which included "Across the Field," "Hang on Sloopy" and the incomparable "Script Ohio," the stadium literally shook.

At the helm

Coach Jim Tressel, dressed as usual in his red sweater vest and white shirt, led the Buckeyes out of the tunnel.

In the days leading up to the game, Tressel never mentioned anything about point spreads or Miami's 34-game winning streak entering the game to his team.

He did, however, talk about the tremendous fan support the Buckeyes enjoyed, and that support was never more evident than in Miami's first offensive series of the game, in which crowd noise led to several miscommunications. On the Hurricanes' first play, heralded quarterback Ken Dorsey was sacked by Will Smith, and before their third down play could be snapped, Dorsey was forced to call time out.

But, the senior and Heisman Trophy finalist proved his mettle, continually rescuing the Hurricanes from third-and-long yardage situations. He completed a perfect pass to Roscoe Parrish for Miami's first touchdown late in the first quarter, but the Buckeyes harassed and hurried him into three turnovers in the second quarter. Ohio State converted two of them into touchdowns, a 14-7 lead at half-time, and the school's first football national championship since 1968.

todor@vindy.com




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