Ohio State won a wild Big Ten semifinal 43-40 over Illinois Saturday to qualify for next week’s final against Wisconsin.
The game was back and forth, with Illinois mounting a stirring second-half comeback, coming from 29-5 down to lead with less than 20 minutes to go.
OSU started on fire, with tries from David Stauder, Santino Cua, and Scot Mesi, which, with two Taylor Hurff conversions, made it 19-0 after 20.
After Illinois got their first try, the Buckeyes tacked on ten more points with a Kyle Harmon try and a conversion and penalty from Hurff.
The Illini faced a monumental task, but were up for it, scoring two crucial tries before halftime, and then another right after the break to make it 29-22 OSU.
A penalty and then a try at 56 minutes put Illinois 30-29 up.
But Harmon proved the hero for the Buckeyes, scoring two tries in the space of 11 minutes. Hurff was good on the conversions to make it 43-30. Illinois scored twice late, and were within three points with a minute to go. Had they been able to convert those tries they could have won, but fell short 43-40.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin beat Indiana 31-16 to make next week’s final. The game was played in a stiff wind that was at Wisconsin’s back in the first half.
“They were really big, but they also had a lot of speed,” said Wisconsin club president Dan Nelson of Indiana. “They were fit and ran at us hard. But we defended our goal line well, and that tough defense was key.”
Key also was their kicking from hand. On more than one occasion, the Wisconsin forwards held firm, turned the ball over, and allowed their backs to kick free. Captain Jordan Heginbottom launched one kick that completely turned the tables on Indiana, sending them deep in their own 22 for a lineout.
“That kick changed the field for us,” said Nelson. “We did a good job getting out of our 22 and that was up to the backs.”
Wisconsin weathered the second half to qualify for the final. Having been under snow much of the still-young spring, the Badgers are looking forward to getting outside to train.
“One more week of practice outside as a team will really be good for us,” he said.