COLUMBUS, Ohio—After almost a year of suspensions, rumors and NCAA trouble in the headlines, Ohio State finally made some news on the field.
Braxton Miller threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith with 20 seconds left and the Buckeyes beat No. 12 Wisconsin 33-29 on Saturday night, handing the Badgers their second consecutive stunning defeat.
It was seven days earlier that Wisconsin was beaten 37-31 at Michigan State on a desperation pass on the final play of the game. The latest heartbreak, just like the one that ended the Badgers' run at an undefeated season, wasn't confirmed until a video review.
"The replay booth has definitely not been our friend the last two weeks," frustrated Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said.
The Buckeyes (5-3, 2-2 Big Ten) earned their biggest win yet in a season shadowed by NCAA problems.
"This is what Ohio State's about," interim coach Luke Fickell said. "We don't ever look at ourselves as underdogs. This is a huge win, a signature win. This is for this team, this is for this program. This is what we expect."
The Badgers (6-2, 2-2) drove to the Ohio State 45 -- and got an extra play after time elapsed due to a defensive facemask call -- but linebacker Andrew Sweat hit quarterback Russell Wilson as he was throwing to end the game and touch off a wild celebration.
It was an incredible finish, with four touchdowns scored in the final 4:39. But the Buckeyes were the last team standing after a series of knockdown punches by both sides.
Miller, a freshman, ran for 99 yards on 19 carries and scored twice, in addition to completing 7 of 12 passes for 89 yards and a score.
Fickell said that before Miller went onto the field for the last possession, the quarterback turned to the coach and winked.
"I felt good about it. That's what you need," Fickell said. "You've got to have confidence in what you're doing. You have to have belief in what you're doing."
Dan Herron, in his second game back from two separate suspensions for accepting improper benefits, rushed for 160 yards on 33 carries.
"It was a great feeling," Herron said. "We definitely wanted this win very bad. The team kept on fighting and guys never gave up and we went out there and got it done."
Miller scored on runs of 1 and 44 yards -- the latter putting Ohio State up 26-14 with 4:39 left. Herron rumbled 57 yards on the first play of the second half to set up Miller's first TD.
The Badgers came in averaging 47.4 points and 512 yards, but were stymied most of the night. They also said all week that they had put the painful loss in East Lansing, Mich., in the rearview mirror. But adding in this latest loss, they may have recurring nightmares.
"(This is) real tough," Wisconsin wide receiver Nick Toon said. "We've handed them the game two weeks in a row at the end of the game. You can't do that."
Wilson completed 20 of 32 passes for 253 yards and three touchdowns and Montee Ball gained 85 yards on 17 carries with one touchdown. Jared Abbrederis had six catches for 113 yards and two scores.
Taking the kickoff to start the second half, Ohio State immediately got a big play.
Herron burst through a hole at the line and past defenders pinching the line, racing 57 yards to the Wisconsin 18. He later went 18 yards to the 1, setting up Miller's first TD run.
After the kickoff, the Badgers had to punt. For the second week in a row, things didn't go as planned.
A week after Wisconsin had a blocked punt lead to points in the backbreaking loss at Michigan State, Ohio State's Ryan Shazier came in completely untouched to block Brad Nortman's punt. The ball was downed at the Wisconsin 1 by Curtis Grant and the Buckeyes were right back near paydirt.
On Jordan Hall's third run from the 1, he stuck his nose in the back of blocking fullback Zach Boren and slid into the end zone, putting the Buckeyes up 17-7.
The celebration was short-lived. The Buckeyes forced a punt but Hall promptly fumbled it, with Andrew Lukasko recovering at the Ohio State 27, leading to Ball notching his 21st touchdown of the season through a wide hole on the left side.
After Drew Basil converted a 22-yard field goal to push the lead to six points, a Wisconsin drive ended at the Ohio State 38 on fourth-and-2 when Sweat knifed through to bring down Ball a yard short.
Six plays later, Miller kept the ball on third-and-2 and raced through a big hole at left tackle, going 44 yards untouched for the score with 4:39 remaining.
The Badgers answered with a quick score in just 44 seconds, with Wilson hitting Abbrederis on a 17-yard score to cut it to 26-21 with 3:48 left.
Wisconsin kicked deep and then held the Buckeyes on three runs, forcing a punt.
It took just four plays to cover the 68 yards, with Wilson finding Abbrederis all alone down the left sideline for a 49-yard score with 1:18 left. A 2-point conversion pass from Wilson to Ball made it 29-26.
"Unfortunately, we scored too fast," Bielema said.
But the Buckeyes came right back, taking over at their own 48 after a 42-yard kickoff return by Hall.
They picked up 12 yards on three plays before Miller took the snap on first down at the Wisconsin 40 with 30 seconds left. He floated right to avoid a rush, barely sidestepped a potential tackle and suddenly noticed Smith wide open in the end zone. Miller stopped and looped the ball to Smith who caught it just before two defenders closed on him.
The crowd of 105,511 went wild.
After Basil's extra point, the Buckeyes kicked off -- out of bounds. That gave Wisconsin the ball at its own 40 with 18 seconds left.
Wilson threw three incompletions -- twice off the hands of receivers who could easily have made huge plays.
As a mob of fans waited to rush the field, it was announced there was a flag on the final play of regulation. It was for a facemask against safety Christian Bryant.
That gave the Badgers the ball at the Ohio State 45 and one final play.
But the pocket closed on Wilson and Sweat hit him from behind just as he was releasing the pass, the ball fluttering to the ground while the field filled with running, jumping fans celebrating Ohio State's 90th homecoming.
"We knew it was going to be a fight," lineman John Simon said. "This is a big win for us. We're going to enjoy it tonight and get back to work tomorrow. There's a lot of football left."
The Badgers are hoping for brighter days.
"Obviously, it's another heartbreaking loss," Bielema said.
Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap.