The Buckeyes, facing one last chance from the Notre Dame 1-yard line with three seconds remaining, handed the ball to senior Chip Trayanum, who lunged barely across the plane of the goal line with his knees just off the ground as he stretched. It completed a frantic 65-yard drive with an impressive first-season starting quarterback, Kyle McCord, who completed key passes of 23 yards to Emeka Egbuka on a third and 10, seven yards to Julian Fleming on fourth and seven, and 21 yards to Egbuka at the 1-yard line on third and 19.
The storybook march began with just 86 seconds left.
It also negated Notre Dame’s mastery of two turns of difficulty in the fourth quarter that had provided it a 14-10 lead: a 96-yard touchdown drive that slogged along for almost 6½ minutes, and a fourth-down stop at its own 11-yard line with 4:12 left. That latter feat, when a committee of Fighting Irish met up with Egbuka on a fancy jet sweep on fourth and one, might have caused some commentary around Columbus had the ending not worked out.
On the long, long march, Sam Hartman, the transfer quarterback who threw for 12,967 yards and 110 touchdowns at Wake Forest, did complete two passes of decent chunks. They went through the middle, 28 yards to wide receiver Jaden Greathouse and 25 yards to tight end Mitchell Evans. A throwback running game with Audric Estime and Jeremiyah Love helped push Notre Dame to the 2-yard line, and Hartman’s pass over the defense to Rico Flores Jr. in the end zone made it all worthwhile with 8:22 left.
Then the Buckeyes bolted right back down to threatening. They got a third-down, 40-yard pass short over the middle from McCord to Xavier Johnson, who briefly looked as if he felt like scoring. Cam Hart caught him at the 30, and soon Ohio State turned up at the 11 with a third and one.
It couldn’t get a yard on either of the next two plays, and the Irish looked close to clear. It had recovered from a 10-0 deficit built with a whiplash turnaround just after halftime.
In that sequence, with the score 3-0 to Ohio State, Notre Dame faced second and three from the Ohio State 41-yard line. It got one yard from Estime, with Tyler Williams on the stop. It got one yard again from Estime, with Ty Hamilton on the stop. At fourth and one, it moved quickly and emphatically. It hurried to the line. Hartman took the snap and headed left to the edge when that edge filled with defenders Sonny Styles and Lathan Ransom. When they leveled Hartman for no gain, the Ohio State sideline erupted and exulted.
One play later, it would erupt and exult again.
With right guard Matthew Jones pulling and blasting, running back TreVeyon Henderson started his way left, tore past the line of scrimmage and wound up on the left sideline outrunning everybody for a 61-yard touchdown and a 10-0 lead with 11:14 left in the third quarter.
Scoring, so elusive for so long, had started to happen. The Irish would go right back down the field, taking 13 plays instead of one, 10 of them runs, and would get the last hard yard on a direct snap to running back Gi’Bran Payne. That made the score 10-7 where for so long it had been 0-0.
Yet with the defenses unlocked at last, the Buckeyes zipped right up the field until a dreadful mistake cost them. McCord threw an 11-yard pass to Egbuka to convert a first down at the Notre Dame 28-yard line, but the play came all the way back to a third and 24 because right tackle Josh Fryar, having blocked linebacker Jaylen Sneed to the ground off the edge, ran back and piled atop Sneed for a graphic personal-foul penalty.
That stalled Ohio State, and that led to Jesse Mirco’s deft punt that stuck the Irish at its own 4-yard line.
That, however, led to 96 yards they would have remembered a while around here, in the second season of Coach Marcus Freeman, that former Ohio State linebacker.
As these college football colossi played each other for only the eighth time ever, the first half might have called to mind the second-ever meeting, Notre Dame’s 7-2 win in 1936. It looked a bit like football of long ago.
It went almost all the way to halftime scoreless, as each side made a long, slow journey up the field only to run into a fourth and one it could not solve. The Irish took 14 plays to go 71 yards in the first quarter; Ohio State took 13 to go 70 in the second. Nobody scored.
Notre Dame wound up at the Ohio State 18-yard line, with Hartman backing up, escaping right, barely eluding end Jack Sawyer’s grab at his heels, streaming to the right sideline, meeting up with linebacker Cody Simon, going out of bounds, thinking it first down and then waiting for the review that indicated it wasn’t.
Ohio State wound up at the Irish 1 for two chances — Javontae Jean-Baptiste’s third-down denial of a Miyan Williams run, and Sneed’s fourth-down deflection of a McCord pass after McCord strayed out right, looked into the end zone and saw covered receivers.
Soon after its ill-fated fourth and one, Notre Dame earned its way to a 47-yard field goal try.
(Spencer Shrader hooked it.)
Finally, a touchdown came.
Then, the touchdown got called off.
Forty seconds before halftime, McCord fired a third straight pass to Egbuka, who appeared to make a high 15-yard catch near the back of the end zone. Ohio State players engaged in happy handshakes until the video people revved up the replay and an entire stadium noticed that Egbuka clearly had dropped the ball.
Yet Ohio State had earned its way to a 31-yard field goal try.
(Jayden Fielding nailed it.)
Ohio State would finish the half in the year 2023 on 147 yards, Notre Dame would finish on 141, and the scoreless tie had yielded at last.