This has been an incredibly fun series to write about. I have appreciated everyone’s comments and their own memories from each game. As I have gone back through these games my own memories from them have all come flooding back. It was a pleasure to be in the stands for every single game on this list that was played at Ross-Ade Stadium except the Wisconsin 1997 game. As far as the road games, I remember where I was when I watched every single one of them on TV. I do want to thank Lake the Posts for the idea of the countdown, as well as Spoilermaker for doing all the hard work and uploading all these videos over the years. Before we get to #1, here is a recap from the rest of our countdown:
That brings us to number 1. This was the overwhelming favorite with 126 votes. With more than a third of the votes cast going to this game it is certainly worthy of its choice as the best win of the Tiller Era. Without further ado, I give you the 2000 season 31-27 win over Ohio State, chosen by the readers of Off the Tracks as the best win of the Tiller Era.
Date: October 28, 2000
Place: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Indiana
Incoming Purdue record: 6-2, 4-1 Big Ten (ranked 16th)
Incoming Ohio State record: 6-1, 3-1 Big Ten (ranked 12th)
It had been ages since we had played this late into a season with hopes for the Rose Bowl on the line. Coming into the 2000 season it certainly seemed like a possibility, but October loomed. Historically, the month of October has been where Purdue football seasons went to die. It happened in 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, and 2006. 2000 appeared to be no different with a slate of Michigan, at Northwestern (who made a surprising run to share the Big Ten with us), at Wisconsin, and home for Ohio State. What made matters worse was the September 30th loss at Penn State appeared to ruin things before the month even started.
But something happened in that Michigan game. The miracle second half comeback made that team believe in itself. We had finally beaten one of the major teams in the conference. Northwestern and Wisconsin fell on the road, leaving Ohio State standing in our way of the perfect month.
It was like a whisper going around campus that week. The Buckeyes were coming. Michigan, Purdue, Northwestern and Ohio State all had one loss in conference play, but we already had the tiebreaker over Northwestern and Michigan. It was plain and simple: beat the Buckeyes and we controlled our fate for Pasadena. A later kickoff meant a sunset game at Ross-Ade. The Buckeyes were the evil empire. They were the unstoppable team that always won. We were the upstart, hoping we had one more shocking win in a magical season. For Ohio State making the Rose Bowl means nothing. They’ve done it dozens of times. For Purdue it had been 34 years since the one and only time. That 1966 team was legendary. I was in my junior year and all week there was discussion of when people were getting to the stadium and who you would be sitting with. It was the biggest home game in decades, and I would have a fifth row seat for it.
I would say I settled into my seat early, but I stood the entire game screaming my head off. Both teams made mistakes on their first drives. Ohio State took the opening kickoff and drove into Purdue territory at the 32. Dan Stultz then missed a 49 yard field goal to give Purdue the ball for the first time. Purdue headed the other way on offense, but also bogged down. On second and 8 from the Buckeye 31 Drew Brees was picked off by Mike Doss. The teams then exchanged punts to end the first quarter scoreless.
After Ohio State accomplished nothing on its first possession of the second quarter Purdue took over at its own 14. Brees drove us to midfield, but was picked off for a second time by a guy that is still playing on Sundays when Nate Clements got him. Clements got a big return to the Purdue 24, but the defense held them to a field goal attempt. This time Stultz was good from 35 to make it 3-0 Ohio State with 9:02 left in the first half.
The Purdue offense continued to stall on its next possession, gaining just 6 yards before another punt gave the ball back to Ohio State. This time it was Steve Bellisari that was picked off by Akin Ayodele, however, and Purdue was in business at the Buckeye 45. Brees used three completions and a six yard run to get down to the two where he allowed Steve Ennis (a.k.a. the Closer that season) to score from two yards out. Ennis was the goal-line specialist that season, and I can’t remember how many 1 and 2 yard TD runs he had. We were cautiously optimistic as his score with 3:41 left in the half held up and Purdue went to the locker room up 7-3.
Even though I thought I had learned my lesson from the Michigan game that season and Notre Dame 3 years before I was still terrified. I felt like a Red Sox fan waiting for the other shoe to drop. Surely that was going to happen in this game and our hearts would be ripped out (Ed. Note: this game did allow me to let my guard down, making That Game in 2004 hurt that much more).
Purdue got the ball to start the second half and we were able to move for the first time all day. Brees moved us from our own 17 to the Ohio State 17 in a little over two minutes thanks to a 45 yard catch by Vinny Sutherland. Travis Dorsch banged home a 34-yarder to make it 10-3. The defense bent on its next possession, but still only allowed a 45 yard field goal by Stultz. With 8:52 left in the third it looked like we were going to win it with defense.
On our next drive we couldn’t even take advantage of a roughing the kicker call that gave us the ball back after a punt. We were forced to punt again, and Ohio State finally broke through with a 62 yard touchdown drive to take the lead. This is where I thought the other shoe began to drop. Things went from bad to worse when Purdue went three and out, followed by Clements returning a Scott Kurz punt 83 yards for a backbreaking touchdown. Yes we had come back against Michigan, but with 1:53 left in the third we were down 20-10 and all the Ohio State fans we were rocking.
One of the comments on a previous entry mentioned about how Brees had tangible intangibles. I have to agree with this. When Brees was in West Lafayette you never felt like we were out of a game. He was one of those quarterbacks that you could tell was a true leader of the team. He is the one player I felt Purdue has had under Tiller that could single-handedly change a game or fix his mistake because of this. We were never out of a game as long as we had Drew, and everyone felt it. As good as Orton was, I feel he lacked that quality. I feel the same with Painter, but I think he may be closer to Brees than Orton. Down by 10 points with little more than 16 minutes left before our dream died that was never more evident in Drew Brees.
Drew immediately delivered by completing six of 10 passes on an 11 play, 73 yard drive. His final pass, a five yard scoring strike to John Standeford on 3rd and goal from the five is a thing of beauty. Just watch as he buys time by dancing away from defenders before he threads a needle to Standeford in the back corner of the end zone.
We still needed the defense to rise to the challenge and they did just that. Ohio State had the ball for just a minute and 29 seconds before punting it back to us. The Boilers took over on their own nine yard line and Brees drove 91 yards in 13 plays. The drive took more than five minutes and was capped by a brilliant 19 yard catch and run to the corner of the end zone by Vinny Sutherland. Brees was 8 of 10 on the drive, completing passes to five different receivers.
With 5:59 left Purdue only needed a defensive stop and they would be able to run out the clock with a 24-20 lead. If you think it is that easy you have obviously never watched Purdue football. The Boilers got the stop with a quick three and out, taking over at their own 26 with 4:37 remaining. Montrell Lowe lost two yards on first down, but Brees gained six with his feet to set up 3rd and six from the 30.
What followed was the worst pass of Drew’s career. Brees was pressured and lofted a lazy fly ball that was picked off by Doss. Doss had open field in front of him down the sideline and was prevented from scoring only by Brees, who tackled him at the two. 60,000+ shrieked in horror the instant the ugly pass was released, as Brees simply should have taken the sack. Jerry Westbrooks plunged in three plays later and Purdue trailed 27-24. In the student section we were crushed. It had to be over.
We still had Drew. In the postgame interview on the field with ABC Drew stated that Ike Moore told him he had broken it, so he needed to fix it. This marks the difference between Brees and Orton. Both this interception and The Fumble were similar plays. With Brees we knew we had a chance. With Orton, it was over. Ben Jones’ miss was pre-ordained. With Drew, he could fix it.
After the kickoff we took over at the Ohio State 36. Brees tried to go to Seth Morales on first down but the pass was batted away. On second down the offensive line gave Brees an eternity to go through his receivers. Doss cheated up and Morales got behind him. He was wide open, so Brees went deep.
On my computer I have simply named the file, "The Catch". Sitting in row five of the student section the ball hung in the twilight air forever. It’s the only time in my life I have seen in slow motion at a sporting event. I saw Morales open and I saw the pass would be perfect. I knew that if we were truly Purdue, he would drop it. I begged for him to just catch it as it hung in the air. I didn’t care if he fell flat on his face after he caught it because we would at least be in field goal range.
Come on, Seth, just catch the ball, please.
I know I wasn’t alone in thinking this. It was almost exactly like Morales’ long TD at Wisconsin a week earlier. I think it’s the only time I have seen 60,000 people praying simultaneously.
He caught it.
I don’t remember seeing him go into the end zone. I think I passed out from joy. The student section was absolute bedlam. To this day I have no idea who I was sitting with or what their names were, but I am sure we hugged and celebrated like long-lost relatives in that moment. The roar that went up was unlike anything I had ever heard at Ross-Ade. It was like a miracle had been delivered just for us. Drew Brees became a saint in that moment. If he announced he was going to walk across the Wabash after that pass I would have followed him down to the riverbank. We couldn’t believe it, and I don’t think even Drew could from his reaction on the video.
The crowd was now screaming at afterburner levels for one more stop, and we got it. On second and seven an Ohio State player went in motion. Bellisari called for the snap at the wrong time and it went off the player’s leg. Landon Johnson pounced on it and Purdue ran out the clock to seal the win.
After the Game:
For the second home game in a row we rushed the field. It was much smoother than the Michigan game, and probably more deliriously happy. We hadn’t beaten Ohio State in 12 years, and it had been more than 20 since we had beaten both OSU and Michigan in the same season.
Brees threw for 455 yards and three TD’s. Sure he had thrown four interceptions, but that was all erased with the pass to Morales. I don’t think there is a more well-known play in the history of Purdue football. We finally had a topper for the George Catavolos interception in the 1967 Rose Bowl. Morales finished with seven catches for 115 yards and will forever be known as the greatest fourth option on a play in Purdue football history.
Credit also needs to be given to the offensive line. As the wallpaper on my personal laptop I have the cover of the 2000 Football Preview issue from GBI of the six guys and Brees. They are dressed in suits with sunglasses and are escorting a uniformed Drew Brees from a stretch limo outside Ross-Ade. The headline simply says, "Protecting the Franchise". They earned their money this day, as Brees had all day to throw on the winning play. He could have sat down, had a cup of coffee, read a newspaper, then gone through his progressions and still had plenty of time to throw.
Simply put, this is the game that sent us to the Rose Bowl. We still had some work to do, and if not for gifts from Northwestern and Iowa we wouldn’t have survived the stumble two weeks later in East Lansing. Barring a miracle Big Ten title this year or upset in Columbus, this game will forever go down as Tiller’s best.
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