3:30 PM ET, September 21, 2002
CINCINNATI (AP) -- So close to pulling off an upset that would have rocked the Buckeye state and the national rankings, Cincinnati coach Rick Minter found little to feel good about.
Will Allen's pick in the final minute was the knockout blow.
Cincinnati receivers dropped two touchdown passes in the final minute, and Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel ran for a late touchdown as the sixth-ranked Buckeyes slipped past the Bearcats 23-19 Saturday, in front of the largest crowd to ever watch a sporting event the city.
"We had a couple of near-misses,'' Minter said. "Give their defensive backs credit, (but) both of those balls should have been caught.''
Ohio State (4-0) was playing in Cincinnati for the first time in 91 years, against a team that had beaten the Buckeyes just twice in 12 tries -- in 1896 and 1897.
Ahead 19-17 midway through the fourth quarter, the Bearcats (1-2) lost the ball and eventually the lead when Ohio State defensive end Darrion Scott leveled quarterback Gino Guidugli with a blind-side hit at the Ohio State 44.
Ohio State took the lead on Krenzel's twisting 6-yard scramble with 3:44 left.
"That was excellent effort,'' Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "The best part about that play is he didn't try to force it to someone who wasn't open. The thing we couldn't have at that moment was a turnover.''
Krenzel lauded the Buckeyes' effort but then sighed with relief.
"We know we made too many mistakes,'' he said. "We almost beat ourselves today.''
The Bearcats gamely came back one more time, as Guidugli led a drive from his own 20 to the Buckeyes' 15 with 1:01 left. On first down, Guidugli threw a pass to the right corner of the end zone, where Jon Olinger had beaten freshman defensive back E.J. Underwood. Olinger had a clear shot at the ball, but he dropped it as half of the 66,319 fans -- a record crowd at Paul Brown Stadium -- groaned.
After an incompletion, Guidugli tossed a perfect throw on the fade route into the left corner of the end zone on third down. George Murray dived and appeared to have the ball for an instant before it slipped through his hands.
"I knew it was coming my way, and I had it the whole way,'' Murray said. "When I hit the ground, I curled up, and I thought I had it. Then I patted my chest, and I didn't feel it. That's when my world came tumbling down.''
On fourth down with 32 seconds remaining, Guidugli dropped and threw into the middle of the end zone, but his pass was tipped away by Ohio State linebacker Matt Wilhelm and intercepted by Will Allen with 26 seconds left.
"I thought it was pass interference,'' said LaDaris Vann, the intended receiver. ''(Ohio State strong safety) Mike Doss pushed me when I was running through, but the referee didn't call it.''
Minter added, "I don't give them any real credit for that interception. It was just playing catch.''
Guidugli completed 26 of 52 passes for 324 yards and one touchdown. Through tears in the dressing room, he vented his frustration.
"It sucks. It sucks so bad. You take nothing from a loss -- not a damn thing,'' he said. "It hurts -- hurts so bad. We had the No. 6 team in the country on the ropes, and we couldn't knock them out.''
Besides his TD run, Krenzel had touchdown passes covering 20 yards to Ben Hartsock and 4 yards to Chris Vance. He provided just enough offense to overcome a lethargic and mistake-prone Ohio State team that trailed most of the day.
"We got a win,'' Wilhelm said. "We feel we dodged a bullet.''
Krenzel was 14-of-29 for 129 yards with two interceptions.
Ohio State was without phenomenal freshman tailback Maurice Clarett, who had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee earlier in the week. But backup Lydell Ross had a career-best 130 yards rushing.
Clarett, who piled up 471 rushing yards and six touchdowns in the Buckeyes' first three games, stood on the sideline in his game jersey, wearing shorts and a knee brace.
In the first half, Cincinnati dominated and Ohio State made mistake after mistake, yet the Bearcats led just 12-7 at the half. Maurice Hall lost a fumble, Krenzel threw two interceptions and Chris Gamble's 96-yard kickoff return was called back by a holding penalty.
Ohio State was helped by Cincinnati's own gaffes.
Guidugli completed 6 of 7 passes for 79 yards on Cincinnati's first possession of the game, with DeMarco McCleskey scoring on a 1-yard run off an option pitch from Guidugli. The Bearcats used a no-huddle offense and frequently had five wide receivers running pass routes.
Jonathan Ruffin, riding the longest extra-point conversion streak (65) in school history, was wide on the point after. It was a miss that would loom large on the last drive, when the Bearcats were four points down.
Ruffin made a 44-yard field goal and a career-best 49-yarder, but he was well short on another 49-yard attempt.