to throw it away, my foot slipped and the ball fluttered in the air toward the sideline. It didn’t go out-of-bounds like I’d intended—it sailed. I watched in horror as the strong safety, Mike Doss, intercepted it and ran it down the sideline. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Practically on autopilot, I chased him down and knocked him out-of-bounds at the two yard line. In the process, I almost knocked myself out.
Dazed, I tried to get up onto one knee. What did I just do?
Ohio State celebrated around me, and our defense came out. I headed back to the sideline and watched as, a couple of plays later, the Buckeyes scored a touchdown to go up 27–24 with a little over two minutes left in the game. Some players tapped me and said, “It’s okay,” or “Go win the game for us.” But other than that people pretty much left me alone.
As I did between most drives in the game, I got on the phone with my quarterbacks coach, Greg Olson, who was positioned up in the press box. “Shake it off. Focus on the next series. You are going to win this game for us—you watch.”
It was eerie how similar this felt to that Notre Dame game two years earlier, but I had learned from that experience. Finally defensive end Warren “Ike” Moore came up to me. He was a senior, too, and a guy who really didn’t get a lot of playing time. But he was a well-respected, quiet leader on the team. He put his arm around me and said something I’ll never forget.
“You broke it. Now go out and fix it.”
For some reason that made sense. It had been my mistake, but I had time to make up for that mistake. Instead of kicking myself or replaying the interception, I focused on the task at hand. One thing you learn quickly is that great quarterbacks must have short-term memories when it comes to things like this. Good or bad, you have to be able to finish a play, push it aside, and move on to the next one. You can never let a play from the past affect the present. Your job is to play in the moment.
Ohio State kicked off, and I went out onto the field. I was feeling the pressure, but it was that pressure that gave me an edge. I was focused and determined and maintained the philosophy of one play at a time. Trust yourself. Trust your teammates. Trust the progression. I threw the first pass, but it was batted down by the defense. Okay, shake it off. Second and ten. Our offensive coordinator, Jim Chaney, then called a routine play—one of my favorites. In this play there are four receivers to throw the ball to. Ninety percent of the time the ball goes to the first or second receiver. The third receiver gets the ball about 10 percent of the time. And then there’s the guy on the outside who runs a post route to clear out the defense. He never gets the ball, except maybe one play in a thousand.
I dropped back and went through my progression. This drill was ingrained in me. You practice it; you visualize it; you go through each receiver methodically and decide yes or no. If any receiver in the progression is open, you pull the trigger. I read the first receiver on a hitch to my left, and he was covered. The second receiver, running a seam route down the left numbers, was covered too. Next I looked at the seam route running right down the middle of the field, and the defense was all over him. All three were a no go.
Then I scanned for the fourth option—the one I never threw to. He was open—and I mean wide open! In a split second, my mind said, Turn it loose. The ball came out of my hand, and Seth Morales caught it for a sixty-four-yard touchdown. We won the game 31–27.
Overcome with emotion, I went down on one knee. “Thank you, Lord.” My offensive linemen came over and picked me up.
The left tackle, Matt Light, who now has a great career with the New England Patriots, including three Super Bowl rings, was one of the first ones there. He grabbed me under my shoulder pads and lifted me off the ground while screaming in my face,