4B - The Michigan Daily - SportsMonday - November 24, 2003
MICHIGAN 35, OHIO STATE 21
From midseason woe,
the Wolverines a-Rose
Michigan's Jason Avant Is injured in the first quarter. The sophomore receiver left the game with left ankle and knee sprains.
Avat goes down, stillinspires
teammates in 'sweet' victory
By Courtney Lewis
Daily Sports Editor
Jason Avant was crying - not
because of the pain, but because he
didn't want to miss this.
The Michigan receiver had made a
catch and landed in a pile, where he was
twisted like Gumby. He shook off the
Michigan trainers who were trying to
help him off the field and willed himself
to the sidelines under his own power,
dragging along his wrenched left leg. It
was Michigan's first possession of the
first quarter of its biggest game, and
Avant knew he was done for the day.
He was angry at himself for not going
down earlier on the play instead of try-
ing to squeeze out an extra yard.
"Sometimes you gotta know when to
go down and when not to, and I felt like
I should've went down on that play,"
Avant said. "I was mad because I felt
like I let down my team. This game is so
big, and you learn so much about this
game, that I just wanted to go out there
and do something, help this team in
some kind of way.
"I was emotional all through the
game. Tears and everything were rolling.
We just practiced so hard, and this was
the biggest game of the year ..."
Avant's sprained ankle and knee
forced him to miss the rest of the game
and, according to coach Lloyd Carr, will
keep him off the field for two weeks. He
watched the game from his solitary spot
on a sideline bench before being taken
to the lockerroom near the end of the
"It was really hard (not to be able to
play) at first," the sophomore said. "But
once you get here and you become a
Michigan Wolverine, you stop worrying
about yourself. Once you learn the tra-
dition and learn what Michigan football
is all about, you stop worrying about
When Avant was carted off the field,
he wasn't worried about how the offense
would perform without him. His emo-
tions showed again, but this time, he
pumped both fists and raised his arms,
inciting the crowd and encouraging his
teammates to keep going without him.
"J. Avant is a strong man," Chris
Perry said. "He inspires me sometimes."
And Avant said not playing didn't
change the way he felt after the game.
"It's not bittersweet for me - it's real-
ly, really, really sweet," Avant said.
Losing Avant could have been devas-
tating to the offense, which has used
three wideouts (Avant, Braylon Edwards
and Steve Breaston) almost exclusively
all season. Avant, who has been clutch
in third-down situations, is Michigan's
second-leading receiver. With the Big
Ten title at stake, the Wolverines had to
replace him with receivers who had
rarely played this season.
But these little-used players took
advantage of their chance to get mean-
ingful playing time. Sophomore Carl
Tabb led the backups, making two
catches that totaled 35 yards.
"Carl is a great player," Avant said.
"In the future, he's going to be a
great player here. You just expect
those kind of plays from him. He
makes those plays in practice every
day - all our receivers do - and
when one guy goes down another one
just has to step up."
Seniors Tyrece Butler, Jermaine Gon-
zales and Calvin Bell also helped fill in
for Avant. All four substitute receivers
had played mostly in Michigan's
blowouts. Bell and Tabb each had eight
receptions before Saturday. Butler had
three and Gonzales had one.
The loss of Avant could have put
added pressure on the remaining top
receivers, but with contributions from
the backups, Ohio State's defense could-
n't focus just on Edwards and Breaston.
"I was very proud of my young men,"
receivers coach Erik Campbell said.
"They came in and fought all game
long. The backups - Carl Tabb, Tyrece
Butler, Jermaine (Gonzales) - got in
the game and contributed. They did that
and allowed Braylon to make big plays
Avant left the locker room to
watch the end of the game, and the
tears were probably rolling again -
tears of joy.
Full Court Press
When the final seconds of
the 2003 regular season
expired, John Navarre
raised both arms, the right one
clutching the ball, the left one
clenched into a triumphant fist. And
then the place erupted into an exhil-
I was in the middle of it, swal-
lowed by the joyous crowd and
swept to the center of the field. I
could barely breathe, although I'm
not sure if it was because the crowd
was smothering me or just because
it was so unforgettable.
I was trying not to get trampled,
trying to interview players, and just
letting it all soak in. For us seniors,
this was the last game in Michigan
Stadium in our college careers, and
it was the best way you could possi-
bly end it.
For the seniors on the team, who
felt firsthand in October the threat
of their last season slipping away,
the feeling must have been even
"I can't even describe it right
now," fifth-year cornerback John
Shaw said. "It's a great experience
to know we're going to get to go to
the Rose Bowl. When you come to
Michigan, you just feel like you're
going to get there. And I think
about the class before us that didn't
get a chance to play at the Rose
"It just feels great to finally get
to the roses."
Fans and players, in one exuber-
ant mass, celebrated the Wolver-
ines' 35-21 win over Ohio State,
Michigan's sixth straight victory
and its biggest in years. The past
disappointments and the crushing
upsets were washed away by the
pure emotion that filled the Big
"What a great, wonderful time it
was during the game," fifth-year
tight end Andy Mignery said.
"Words can't express how I feel
right now ... To be out there in our
victory formation, when the last
minute was winding down, and to
see all the people react. Just the
emotion the crowd was giving. It
was what Michigan-Ohio State is all
about - the greatest rivalry in foot-
It was a feeling that we almost
didn't even get a chance to have in
Remember, these Michigan play-
ers, whose smiles and boyish excite-
ment lit up the evening Saturday,
were left shaking their heads, eyes
to the ground, just seven weeks
before. It seems so far away now,
but after the Iowa loss, when John
Navarre was near tears and Chris
Perry had no answers, this team was
trying to comprehend how it had
two losses just six games into the
At that midway point, the season
looked like it would be forgotten in
its mediocrity - or worse, remem-
bered for its demise. The team that
had so soundly beaten Notre Dame
and announced itself as a real
national-title contender had quickly
unraveled and could not lose anoth-
er game if it were to even have a
chance at a conference title.
At that point, the Wolverines had
to win out - a daunting task.
Then, something happened. Star-
ing down its knockout punch in the
Minnesota game, Michigan turned it
around right there in the
Metrodome. Since that 31-point
fourth quarter, the Wolverines have
been a different team - focused
"We, as a team, have so much
character," offensive lineman Tony
Pape said. "I think this team has
really shown all its heart to go and
take those two losses and use them
in a positive way. Those losses
made us stronger as a team, and we
built on that. We built on teamwork
and camaraderie. We stayed togeth-
er all season and pushed each
On Saturday, Michigan was the
team we expected this season. The
Wolverines won with big plays from
their big stars and with contribu-
tions from everybody else. They
won as a team. When receiver Jason
Avant went down, four guys stepped
in to help fill the gap. And when the
Buckeyes were threatening and
Michigan desperately needed to
answer back, little-known tight end
Tyler Ecker came up with a 30-yard
During that electric post-game
bedlam, I eventually ended up in the
midst of a throng of fans that had
surrounded defensive end Larry
Stevens, chanting, "Larry! Larry!"
Stevens held up a delicate rose in his
giant hand and said, "This is all that
matters. This is all that matters."
The missed chances, the losses,
the criticism were all forgotten in
one sweet moment.
I looked down and saw a single
red petal lying on the turf, and I
picked it up and put it in my pocket.
Courtney Lewis can be reached at
Time of Poss
Yds Avg Lg
247 41.2 46
247 41.2 46
M I C H I G A N
All signs point toward Pasadena and
Michigan's 18th appearance in the Rose
Bowl. The opponent is unknown, though,
and if certain scenarios play out, even'
the Tournament of Roses isn't a sure
thing. Southern Cal. still holds on to the
No. 2 spot in the BCS computers, but if it
falls along with Louisiana State, the
Wolverines may find themselves in New
Orleans with a shot at the national cham-
pionship. Michigan's 41st conference
title did guarantee one thing: It will be
playing in a BCS Bowl somewhere
BIG TEN STANDINGS
'Old Man Columbus'
By Jim Weber
In Friday's column, I told about four years of my dad's
pranks - most recently an ad in The Michigan Daily in
which "a big blue lover" was encouraged to call my cell
phone and ask for "Little Lost Jimmy Weber." Then, I
guaranteed he would regret making the trek from our
home in Columbus to Ann Arbor this weekend.
Not only did my dad have to sit through a 35-21 loss
to Michigan, he did it in the Michigan student section.
My dad was due to sit in the Ohio State section, but
when he stopped by my house Friday, I did him the
favor of secretly switching his ticket to the more ener-
getic student section.
While I was in the press box, students surrounding my
dad affectionately referred to him as "Old Man Colum-
bus." He was mocked throughout the game for constantly
shaking his head at the Buckeyes' misfortunes and
reminded to take his useless Ohio State seat cushion as
he exited the game midway through the fourth quarter.
According to students around him, when my dad left
the Big House, he had just one thing to say: "I'm not
coming back for a long, long time."
THIS WEEKEND'S RESULTS
Michigan 3S, Ohio State 21
Iowa 27, Wisconsin 21
Purdue 24, Indiana 16
Michigan State 41, Penn State 22
Northwestern 37, Illinois 20
Central Michigan W, 45-7
Houston W, 50-3
Notre Dame W, 38-0
at Oregon L, 27-31
Indiana W, 31-17
at Iowa L, 27-30
at Minnesota W, 3&35
Illinois W, 56-14
Purdue W, 31-3
at Michigan State W, 27-20
at Northwestern W, 41-10
Ohio State W, 35-21
Jim Weber (right of his father) checked on "Old Man Columbus" at halftime.
The student section poured onto the field to celebrate
Michigan's win and its first outright Big Ten title since 1997.
SUGAR BOWL BOUND?: With its victory
over Mississippi, Louisiana State
kept its Sugar Bowl hopes alive.
The Tigers overcame the struggles
of quarterback Matt Mauck to take
the game 17-14. Mauck threw an
interception on Louisiana State's
first play, and it gave Mississippi
its first touchdown. He responded
in the fourth quarter with a 53-yard
strike to Devery Henderson. Missis-
sippi had a chance to tie the game
with 4:15 left in the game but kick-
er Jonathon Nichols missed the 36-
varder. only his second miss all
HOW THE AP TOP 25 FARED
Associated Press Poll for the week of Nov. 11.
Games updated through Nov. 16.
(first-place votes in parentheses)
2. Southern Cal.
3. Louisiana State
4. Ohio State
8. Washington State
10. Texas Christian
beat Texas Tech 56-25
beat UCLA 47-22
beat Mississippi 17-14
lost to Michigan 35-21
beat Ohio State35-21
lost to Washington 27-19
beat Vanderbilt 48-0
lost to Southern Miss. 40-28
beat Indiana 24-16
Kansas St. (Dec 6)
Oregon St. (Dec 6)
at Texas A&M
+ %iti n
1. Oklahoma (65)
2. Southern Cal.
3. Louisiana State
8. Ohio State
9. Florida State
10. Miami (Fla.)
14. Kansas State
15. Miami (Ohio)
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