Heartbreaking losses have started to become a theme for Wisconsin (7-4, 4-3) over the past few seasons. On Senior Day, with undefeated Ohio State (11-0, 7-0) in town, the Badgers suffered yet another.
Corey Brown had a 68-yard punt return in the first quarter.
Ohio State escaped Madison with a 21-14 overtime win, keeping their perfect season alive, and ending Wisconsin's Leaders Division Title hopes, as well as deflating the Badgers.
"Everybody involved had a lot invested in that week," Wisconsin Head Coach Bret Bielema said. "A lot going into that game. Our guys battled back and then down to the last part of regulation, did a lot of really good things.
"Sorry for our seniors. Guys did a lot for us the last four, five years. Not to send them out win a win, is very difficult to swallow."
Both teams traded punches in the early going, with no points from either side. It was Ohio State that found pay dirt first as Corey Brown returned a punt off the foot of Drew Meyer 68-yards for the game's first score.
"He (Meyer) was kicking into the wind," said Bielema. "I know he was trying to drive the ball. I thought they were trying to set up the edge, but he just creased it up the middle. Their guy made a play and just gashed us up the seam."
On their next drive, the Buckeyes struck again. Ohio State Running Back Carlos Hyde went right up the gut for a 15-yard touchdown run, breaking the game open at 14-0.
The Buckeyes had all the momentum, but Wisconsin didn't wait long to respond. Led by the effort of Senior Running Back Montee Ball, the Badgers got within 14-7 after his 7-yard touchdown run.
With the score, Ball tied the all-time NCAA record for career touchdowns. The Badgers didn't know it then, but Ball needed to break the record today.
Ball finished with 191 rushing yards on 39 carries.
"I would have liked to see him break it," Bielema said.
Ohio State and Wisconsin went into halftime with the Buckeyes leading 14-7. From there, it was a major struggle for both offenses.
The Badgers held the Buckeyes to just 236 total yards for the game. Ohio State Quarterback Braxton Miller was held to his worse performance by Wisconsin's defense, who smothered him game long. Miller passed for just 97 yards and gained 75 yards rushing on 23 carries.
"They go as number five goes," Bielema said "He's a tremendous football player, tremendous poise. He's got a lot of ability to throw the ball, run the ball. If we were going to beat Ohio State, it was going to take 11 guys on every play. I think they all kind of believed in that."
Both teams went scoreless in the third quarter, but Wisconsin consistently knocked on the door, hoping to tie the game, but never could come through with points, until finally it was either reach the end zone, or lose the game.
Wisconsin even got as close as the 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter, but on a fourth down carry Ball leaped for the end zone and had the ball knocked away, just before he reached the end zone.
"We talk about running the ball in the end zone," Bielema said. "That's a teaching moment for everybody. I just had this flash in my mind when we lined up to run that play, I'm like 'don't jump, don't jump.'
"Because I knew he would do anything he could to get in the end zone. I can't discredit him for the effort."
Gilbert and the Wisconsin defense had Miller smothered all game long.
Time and time again, Wisconsin's defense responded in the second half and eventually gave the Badgers one more opportunity.
With just 1 minute and 33 seconds left on the clock, Senior Quarterback Curt Phillips orchestrated a drive for the ages. Just making the second start of his career, Phillips had his senior moment.
After being sacked on the first play of the drive by John Simon, Phillips composed the offense, who went nine plays, and 41 yards, capped off by a touchdown pass from Phillips to Jacob Pedersen with just eight ticks left on the clock.
Phillips was clutch on the drive, going 5-5, including a key fourth down pass to Jared Abbrederis. Phillips finished the day going 14-25, for 154 yards, and the touchdown.
"Curt's going through the lessons a first time starter have to go through," Bielema explained. "Kind of an amazing deal to be his first start, at Camp Randall, on Senior Day, where he gets honored. Tremendous perseverance.
"There were just a couple plays that were all on him, just making unbelievable efforts. Great throws, great catches against an unbelievable football team. What he gave us today was worth its weight in gold."
Ohio State and Wisconsin would then head to overtime. Camp Randall had an electric atmosphere with all the momentum pointed towards the Badgers.
"Felt good," Bielema said of Wisconsin's chances. "Won the toss and went on defense."
Phillips led a great drive late in the fourth quarter to tie the game.
As they did in regulation, the Buckeyes struck first in overtime. Hyde scored his second touchdown of the day, this time from 2-yards out, to put Ohio State up 21-14.
Before that play, Miller scampered for an 8-yard run, which set Ohio State up for a first and goal. The Buckeyes got away with what looked like an obvious holding call on David Gilbert, that Bielema was none to pleased about.
"That's accurate," Bielema stated when asked if Gilbert was held. "I know there was concern there. We were yelling pretty hard from our sideline, but obviously it didn't get called."
On Wisconsin's first possession in overtime, the Badgers couldn't muster much. Wisconsin was forced into a fourth and six and Phillips' pass attempt was batted away by Christian Bryant, giving Ohio State the 21-14 victory.
"They dove in front and made a really big play," said Bielema.
Wisconsin lost yet another heartbreaker, but the Badgers will still move on to the Big Ten Championship Game, despite not winning their own division.
"I didn't really touch that topic with them," said Bielema. "I told them how much I loved them, how much I appreciate what they've done. It's something, we'll kind of talk about that at the end of the year."
At this point, Bielema says Wisconsin can rise up once again and climb over yet another hurdle on this roller coaster season.
"It's tough," he said. "Seniors, those guys mean the world for me. I know Montee's hurting. The good news is that it'll make everybody stronger. It just kind of sucks to go through it.
"One of the things I've heard throughout the year this year, it's not what's behind us, it's not what's in front of us, it's what's within us. For whatever reason we're having to learn some lessons that are really difficult to swallow, but it will make us better.
"It's times like these when you really find out about what kind of people you have. This is when things would fall apart. The guys just keep buckling up and playing. It really shows the character of who they are. I'm really proud of them. But being proud of them won't get them a win."
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