It’s not how you win, Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler said, “it’s how many you win.”
Both Schembechler and Ohio State Coach John Cooper credited their teams with great comebacks, but only Schembechler was left smiling afterward.
Michigan blew a 20-0 halftime lead when Ohio State scored the first 24 points of the second half, then came back from two deficits in the fourth quarter for a 34-31 victory, clinching the Big Ten Conference title outright.
In the end, it took John Kolesar’s 59-yard kickoff return to set up his own 41-yard touchdown reception to provide the winning points. Marc Spencer’s last-minute interception sealed the outcome for the No. 12 Wolverines.
The lead changed hands 4 times, and there were 5 scoring drives in the final quarter.
“Well, we made it an exciting ball game, didn’t we?” Schembechler said.
“Kolesar’s big plays won it for us. He’s a game-breaking guy. He was running possessed on the kickoff return. That was the first time we had ever run that kickoff-return play.
“He just made a great catch on that touchdown.”
Schembechler, a former Ohio State assistant under the late Woody Hayes, is 10-9-1 coaching against the Buckeyes.
Cooper, in his first season at Ohio State, said he told his players at halftime, “Hey, you’re going to get embarrassed if you keep playing the way you’re playing.”
They didn’t and they weren’t. But the Buckeyes still saw a string of 21 straight winning seasons come to an end.
“We played a heck of a third and fourth quarter,” said Ohio State linebacker John Sullivan, a senior. “It’s human nature, I guess. Once you are in a corner, you get wild. We looked at each other and said, ‘We can play better than this.’ ”
Cooper added: “The way the game ended is the way our season’s gone. We came up a little short.”
Kolesar said: “I knew we had to get field position (on the kickoff return). I had to make up for earlier mistakes I made. I caught it 2 yards deep in the end zone, but I had extra adrenalin and I knew I could get it out to the 35 because we had a different return on. I almost broke it, except for a great play by the kicker.”
Of his game-winning catch, the senior wide receiver said: “It was my second resolve situation, because I dropped a pass earlier that would have been a touchdown. You do it or don’t.”
Michigan is 8-2-1 overall and 7-0-1 in the Big Ten. Ohio State finished at 4-6-1 and 2-5-1.
The victory clinched Michigan’s 12th outright Big Ten title. The Wolverines earned a berth in the Rose Bowl with a 38-9 victory over Illinois the previous Saturday.
Ohio State had its worst season since going 4-5 in 1966.
After Ohio State took a 24-20 lead on Pat O’Morrow’s 21-yard field goal with 8:30 left, Michigan drove 80 yards with Leroy Hoard, who had 158 yards in 23 carries, scoring on an 8-yard run with 4:20 left. Mike Gillette’s extra-point kick put Michigan ahead, 27-24.
But 6 plays after the next kickoff, Ohio State fullback Bill Matlock scored his second touchdown of the half, on a 16-yard run, and Ohio State took a 31-27 lead.
Kolesar then returned the kickoff 59 yards to the Buckeye 41. After an incompletion, quarterback Demetrius Brown rolled left and threw deep into the left corner of the end zone, where a leaping Kolesar beat safety David Brown for the ball. The 41-yard pass play came with 1:37 left and closed the scoring.
Ohio State took over at its 29 and drove to a second and 2 at the Michigan 39 with 29 seconds left. Ohio State quarterback Greg Frey, who had completed 10 of 15 second-half passes for 152 yards, threw over the middle, and the pass was intercepted by linebacker Spencer to end the threat.
Brown completed 11 of 17 passes for 223 yards, and Tony Boles had 19 rushes for 103 yards for the Wolverines.
Michigan built its 20-0 lead on field goals of 22 and 56 yards by Gillette, the longer a school record, an 18-yard run by Hoard and a 57-yard pass from Brown to Greg McMurtry.
In the second half, Ohio State scored on a 4-yard run by Carlos Snow, 9- and 16-yard runs by Matlock, a 14-yard pass from Frey to Bobby Olive and O’Morrow’s field goal.
Snow had 170 yards in 25 carries for Ohio State.
Michigan totaled 276 yards rushing and 223 passing for 499 total yards. Ohio State countered with 277 rushing and 192 passing for 469.
In the second half, Ohio State rushed for 201 yards and passed for 152. Over the same 30 minutes, Michigan was limited to 71 rushing yards.
The game was the 85th meeting of the teams, with Michigan improving its record to 47-33-5.
Attendance at Ohio Stadium was 90,176.