Compared to the craziness of 2014, Cleveland Sports in 2015 came off as uneventful. The Indians failed to make the postseason — again. The Browns are perpetually a disaster on and off of the field. Nevertheless, as the year comes to a close, just as we have done the last seven years, WFNY will take a look at what we view to be the ten biggest sports stories to grace our local sports scene over the last 12 months. Each day through the rest of the year, we will be counting down from ten to one. Do enjoy.
Following their loss against Virginia Tech in Week 2 of the 2014 season, the Ohio State Buckeyes put themselves into a hole out of which it would take the remainder of the season to dig themselves. Climbing the walls of said hole seemed insurmountable when starting quarterback J.T. Barrett suffered a broken ankle against That Team Up North in the final game of the regular season. The Bucks were forced to lean on a quarterback who had never made a start (and barely ever seen the field), a quarterback who had been third-string in August. Thankfully, Cardale Jones was up to the task.
Jones made his first career start in the Big Ten Championship game against the favored Wisconsin Badgers. Led by their new quarterback, the Buckeyes dominated the Badgers, 59-0, and impressed the College Football Playoff selection committee enough to be named one of four teams to make the inaugural College Football Playoff. As the fourth seed, the Buckeyes were pitted against the consensus No. 1 overall team in the country, the Alabama Crimson Tide.
On New Year’s Day, the Buckeyes were ready to take on Bama, the team that many favored to win the first-ever College Football Playoff Championship.
In a David vs. Goliath matchup, few gave the Bucks a chance against Nick Saban’s club. But Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes had something to prove, a chip on their shoulder, and enough talent on the field to pull off an upset that shocked the college football world.
Trailing 21-6 midway through the second quarter thanks to Ohio State’s inability to convert in the red zone, Cardale Jones and the Buckeyes offense finally arose and couldn’t be stopped from that point forward. Ohio State quickly made the 15-point deficit disappear and took a 27-21 lead early in the third quarter. When the clock struck zero, OSU had done what few thought possible — they beat the No. 1 Crimson Tide, 42-35, and proved the Big Ten could beat the SEC’s best.
Whether it was a trick play (with wide receiver Evan Spencer throwing the ball to fellow wideout Michael Thomas for an incredible touchdown catch) or running back Ezekiel Elliott running wherever he wanted, the Buckeyes had something to prove against the country’s supposedly best team. They not only stepped up as individuals, but they won all facets of the game — offense, defense, and special teams. Every single player wearing scarlet and gray that New Year’s night made the upset happen, and that was one of the most impressive parts of the win over Alabama
After allowing 21 points in the opening 20 or so minutes, the Silver Bullets stepped up their game and led Ohio State even when the offense had its struggles early in the game. But, all around, it was a total team effort to take down Goliath by head coach Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes.
The Cardale Jones-led Buckeyes were now 2-0 in tha playoffs after demolishing Wisconsin and beating Bama. With his performances and incredibly strong arm, Jones was given the nickname “12 Gauge,” and he didn’t disappoint. Not a bad start, eh? Following their victory over Alabama, Ohio State was set to travel to Arlington, Texas to play in the inaugural College Football Playoff Championship in the House that Jerry Jones Built.
After playing the first and second runners-up in the 2014 Heisman race, the Buckeyes’ final opponent was the man who won the stiff-armed trophy, Marcus Mariota and the Pac-12 Champion Oregon Ducks. While the Buckeyes wrestled Bama in the Big Easy, Oregon vaulted over the defending champion Florida State Seminoles in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks entered the game with a well-deserved swagger and showed neither rust nor mercy by scoring the game’s first touchdown in a crisp 2 minutes and 39 seconds. The Buckeyes responded a few drives later with a 33-yard Ezekiel Elliott touchdown run. Remember that name; he will come up again.
OSU quarterback Cardale Jones played out of his shoes for two games, but he looked human at times against the Duck defense. His phantom fumble in the second quarter seemed especially damning. Compounded with an interception in the same quarter, the club would need a full-team effort to seize the day. At the half, Ohio State led 21-10, but the lead felt far from secure.
After two Oregon scores to open the second half, the Buckeye lead was down to a solitary point. With the game hanging in the balance, Ohio State held the ball facing third-and-3 from the Oregon 28. Jones rushed up the middle and powered through an Oregon linebacker. The crowd stood up and Buckeye Nation collectively knew we would Not. Be. Denied. Ezekiel Elliott ended that drive with a touchdown run.
While Oregon failed to score in the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes completed their scoring with two rushing touchdowns from — who else? — Elliott, the last coming with a scant 28 seconds to go. Mariota’s final throw, the last of his college career, was picked off by Eli Apple. It was only the fourth interception Mariota tossed all year.
Elliott finished the contest with 246 yards and four touchdowns and was an easy pick for game MVP. Over three postseason games, Elliott accumulated 696 yards, eight touchdowns, and a special place in Ohio State’s storied running back history.
As gold confetti fell in Texas, the Buckeyes acted every bit the college kids they were. They snapped selfies, danced on the field, caught confetti snowflakes on their tongues, and took turns holding a trophy that no team had ever owned. Urban Meyer’s team had arrived ahead of schedule and showed up in style, following one of the more implausible arcs in college football history. For the first time in a dozen years, The Ohio State University stood at the top of the college football pyramid. They were once again The Best Damn Team in the Land.