Jeannette grads meet in Big Ten title game
Nationally, the Big Ten Conference Championship Game was viewed as a battle of two top college football programs — Ohio State and Michigan State — battling for conference supremacy.
Locally, there was a little added interest as the contest also featured two Jeannette High School graduates, one on each side of the ball.
In the end, the results were surprising. Michigan State — featuring redshirt freshman Demetrious Cox as a reserve safety and special teams player — took a 34-24 upset victory over Ohio State, which features senior Jordan Hall as a reserve running back.
Michigan State, now 11-1, entered the game ranked No. 10 in the country in both the Associated Press and Bowl Championship Series polls, while the Buckeyes, now also 11-1, were ranked No. 2 in the nation. But the Spartans rallied from a seven point third quarter deficit to score 17 unanswered points and take the win. Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook was the star of the game, completing 24 of 40 passes for 304 yards, three touchdowns and just one interception.
Both local products played sparingly, with Cox contributing on special teams and Hall rushing once for 13 yards.
With the win, Michigan State — now ranked No. 4 in both bowls — is the Big Ten conference champion and will play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1987. The Spartans will play PAC 10 champion No. 5 ranked Stanford (11-2) on New Year's Day.
In his weekend press conference, Michigan State head coach said his team is “thrilled to be going to the Rose Bowl. It's a goal we set when we came here … an opportunity to play Stanford, it will be a great one. Another great challenge for us.”
The Buckeyes meanwhile, lost more than the conference title. They lost the chance to play for the national title. Ohio State also saw its 24-game winning streak come to an end, though some say that streak was misleading as none of the wins came against a top-10 team.
Ohio State, now ranked No. 7 in the country in both polls, still ends up in a prestigious destination, the Discover Orange Bowl on Jan. 3 when they will take on No. 12 Clemson (10-2) of the ACC.
“Well, just went around the room and told the players I love them. I don't like to use the word ‘proud', but I am proud of them,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said in his post-game news conference. “They fought against a very good team . . . We got to do things a little bit better. I don't want to take anything away from our opponent. That's a heck of a team, man. Good players, good scheme.”
Mahoney, Mount Union take another step
The competition is getting tougher, but the Purple Raiders continue to find a way.
The Mount Union football team, featuring Jeannette native Pat Mahoney on the offensive line, has largely cruised through its competition this season. Entering Saturday's NCAA Division III quarterfinal playoff game against Wesley (Del.), the Purple Raiders were 12-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country. They had outscored their opponents 583-167 this season and only three times was the game decided by fewer than 16 points.
However, this late in the playoffs, everyone still playing is pretty darn good, as Mount Union saw on Saturday.
With Mahoney, a Greensburg Central Catholic graduate starting at guard, Mount Union edged No. 14 Wesley in a 62-59 shootout. Wesley quarterback Joe Callahan set a Division III playoff record with 633 passing yards and eight touchdown passes.
With that win, Mount Union — the defending national champion — has won 28 straight games and 76 straight home games.
Mount Union jumped out to a 31-0 first quarter lead before Wesley began to mount a furious comeback. Wesley scored two touchdowns, each with a two-point conversion, in the game's final three minutes, leaving the outcome undecided until the final moments.
The now-13-0 Purple Raiders advance to the Division III semifinals for an astounding 19th consecutive year; they will host 13-0 North Central (Ill.), ranked No. 4 in the nation, this Saturday.
The Cardinals are fresh off a 41-17 quarterfinal win over Bethel (Minn.). Kickoff is set for noon, and the game will be broadcast on ESPN3.
The winner will go on to play in the Division III national title game, the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl.
Brian Knavish is a contributing writer.