ABC's Jackson, Fouts Rise to Occasion

Evidently working on a five-year plan, the bowl championship series finally got it right in Tempe, Ariz., on the first Friday of 2003.

Two undefeated teams playing for the title.

The score tied after regulation, on a last-second field goal by the team with a 34-game winning streak on the line.

The score still tied after one overtime, after a fourth-and-14 conversion by the 13-point underdog.

Keith Jackson is calling the play by play.

For once, it is impossible to overhype what was playing out before us.

College football doesn't get any better than this.

"On its way ... GOOD!" Jackson exclaimed as Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent split the uprights with an extra point that forced a 24-24 tie and a second round of overtime.


"Seventy-seven thousand, five hundred and two in attendance ... and ain't nobody going home!"

Dan Fouts laughed and asked his partner, who probably figured he has seen it all until this one, "Having fun yet, big boy?"

Speaking for millions watching at home on the edges of their sofas, Jackson sighed and replied, "I'm worn out."

After suffering last January through the BCS' worst-case scenario -- an undeserving Nebraska team falling behind Miami by 34 points before the Rose Bowl hit halftime -- ABC experienced the polar extreme Friday night.

Ohio State, expected by many to play the role of Nebraska as Miami went for a second consecutive championship, turned a relentless defensive effort into a 17-7 third-quarter lead.

Miami, playing without star running back Willis McGahee, who injured his knee early in the fourth quarter, rallied to tie on a 40-yard field goal by Todd Sievers as time expired.

ABC had merely been hoping for a close game. In fact, at halftime, with Ohio State trailing, 14-7, despite a non-existent rushing attack, analyst Terry Bowden said, "Thank goodness Ohio State's defense is keeping them in the game."

Ordinarily, cheering in the press box is frowned upon. But after Miami 37, Nebraska 14 last year, one could hardly blame Bowden for rooting for a game that could hold off the channel surfers at least through the third quarter.

Four hours after kickoff, the Buckeyes and the Hurricanes were still holding everyone's interest. So ABC just got out of the way, and let the game come to Jackson and Fouts.

Fouts, underrated in his two years in the "Monday Night Football" booth, where too often critics covered him with the same blanket that eventually muffled Dennis Miller, helped ratchet up the suspense as the action took both teams down one unexpected road after another.

On a fourth-down play, after Miami was flagged for pass interference in the end zone, Fouts studied the replay and immediately declared the Buckeyes had received a charity handout.

"Bad call, bad call," Fouts said of the penalty that saved Ohio State's season -- and ultimately ruined Miami.

Judging by the various angles of the replay shots, Fouts was right.

Ohio State was awarded a first down and ran a play that Miami free safety Sean Taylor missed. What was Taylor doing on the sideline at such a crucial moment?

According to sideline reporter Lynn Swann, Taylor had thrown his helmet into the air in celebration over Miami's apparent victory. After the penalty flag fell and the two teams reassembled for first down, Swann said Taylor was still busy reassembling the various pieces of his helmet.

After Krenzel's quarterback sneak tied the score, 24-24, and forced a second overtime, the teams switched sides, Ohio State got the ball and Maurice Clarett scored five plays later.

Ball to Miami. Last chance for the Hurricanes. In the span of a few heady seconds, Miami lost starting quarterback Ken Dorsey to an apparent shoulder injury, little-used backup Derrick Crudup came in to complete an eight-yard pass and after a Hurricane timeout, Dorsey was jogging back onto the field.

"A considerable risk," Jackson noted as he wondered about the condition of Dorsey and his throwing arm.

It was a point that had to be raised, especially considering how Dorsey floated two ensuing passes, grimacing after releasing one.

Finally, it came down to this, as Jackson narrated:

"Well, the ball is a little short of the one-yard line now.... The final play. Unless they can stick it in the end zone....

"Dorsey under pressure.... Throws i-i-t-t.... .

"Incomplete! The Buckeyes win!

"Cie Grant was the man who pressured Dorsey! And now the party begins for the Ohio State Buckeyes. They are 14-0. And they are national champions of college football."

Five years in the making, the BCS delivered at last. And when it did, ABC did not fumble.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Tuesday January 07, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 7 inches; 262 words Type of Material: Correction College football -- Ohio State led Miami of Florida, 14-7, at halftime of the Fiesta Bowl game Friday. A Sports article Saturday incorrectly reported that Ohio State trailed, 14-7.
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