In 2002, the Ohio State Buckeyes went into their final two regular season games undefeated after the combination of their awesome defense and timely plays had made them the No. 2 team in the country.
But for coach Jim Tressel and his team, they knew all their hard work would be for naught if they couldn't finish the job at Illinois and home against Michigan.
For their final road game, the Buckeyes travelled to Champaign, Illinois, to battle Ron Turner's 4-6 Fighting Illini. If ever there was a game that could be seen as a good tune-up for Michigan, it was this game. However, that assessment couldn't have been further from the truth, and Ohio State fans were in for yet another week of gut-wrenching football.
Just like the week before at Purdue, Ohio State's offense was limited in its capabilities, especially with Maurice Clarett sitting out. In the entire first half, the Scarlet & Gray could only produce six points, coming from two Mike Nugent field goals.
On the other side of the ball, the immovable Buckeye defense was at it again, limiting the Illini to just three points in the first half and 53 rushing yards overall.
After an opening half that only included nine points, the second half opened up a just a little bit more - though not in the Buckeyes favor. To open the half, Ohio State went three-and-out in less than a minute, and from the ensuing Andy Groom punt, Eugene Wilson returned the ball all the way to the Buckeye 20-yard line.
Three plays later on a 3rd and 6, Illinois quarterback Jon Beutjer found Walter Young - whose double-move shook off Dustin Fox - in the corner of the end zone for the hosts first touchdown of the day, and the Illini were up by four.
But only a minute later, Ohio State struck back. On 2nd and 10, Craig Krenzel chucked the ball deep down the left sideline to his favorite target Michael Jenkins, and the hero of the Purdue came up with yet another touchdown grab. The Buckeyes had the lead once again.
Illinois' offense attacked the Buckeyes again, and Beutjer's long completion to Young set up kicker John Gockman for his second field goal of the day.
Ohio State did answer again, with Mike Nugent reestablishing the Buckeyes' three-point lead, putting the initiative back on Illinois.
In the fourth quarter and still down by three, the Illini looked as though they had blown their last chance, as Gockman missed a 59-yard attempt with two minutes to go. Needing a first down to seal the game on the next drive, Ohio State couldn't do it, as Krenzel was sacked on third down and Tressel was forced to punt it back to the home team.
This time, Gockman made no mistakes, as some timely completions by Beutjer gave him a shot at a 48-yard field goal attempt that he didn't miss. For the first time (but not the last) that season, Ohio State was heading to overtime.
In fact, it was the Buckeyes' first ever overtime game, but they showed no signs of inexperience. Beginning the period on offense, Ohio State found itself in a 3rd and 10 situation, and the Bucks looked to Krenzel to deliver. Did he ever - with all his receivers covered, Krenzel elected to scramble, and his mad dash up the left side got his team the first down they so desperately needed.
Two plays later, Krenzel handed it off to Maurice Hall, who went untouched into the endzone. Now, just like at the end of regulation, the Illini had to score.
After a few plays and a first down, they were looking good to do just that. On Beutjer's 2nd down pass, he threw to the right sideline of the end zone, looking for his big wideout Aaron Moorehead. Covered by the much smaller Dustin Fox, Moorehead came down with the ball in what looked to be a clear touchdown play. But Fox knew what he had to do and - as is legal in college football - the defensive back pushed Moorehead out of bounds as he was in the air catching the ball, and the play was correctly ruled incomplete.
Then came third down, and this time Beutjer went to the left side looking for Young, the man who had caught the earlier touchdown. Young made they catch once again, and unlike Moorehead he was in bounds, but as he was falling he bobbled the ball and never got complete control of it, and again the play was correctly called incomplete. Illinois had one more shot.
Finally on fourth down, Beutjer went to the air again, but this time his pass wouldn't even make it past the line of scrimmage. Under pressure from numerous Buckeye defenders, Beutjer's pass attempt was knocked down at the line by Tim Anderson, and Ohio State survived yet again.
Two straight road games that looked simple at the outset proved to be huge tests, but Jim Tressel's squad had passed both. Now, just like in 1995 and 1996, the Buckeyes were undefeated going into Michigan week and knew that a win would put them in the National Championship game.