Lucas at Large: Familiar feeling for finale

There was a buzz in the air, a sense of anticipation before Wisconsin's 1998 regular-season finale against Penn State at Camp Randall Stadium. But the Badgers needed some help to realize their dream.

The week before, they had been humbled in their bid for perfection by a 27-10 loss at Michigan. That snapped a nine-game winning streak which had lifted them to a No. 8 ranking in the polls.

Now they were forced to pick up the pieces with the "faint" hope that Ohio State could beat the Wolverines in Columbus - faint because Buckeyes coach John Cooper was 1-8-1 against Michigan.

"Miracles happen all the time, don't they?" posed UW defensive end Tom Burke.

Indeed.

In 1993, the Badgers needed an Ohio State loss to Michigan to open the door for a trip to the Rose Bowl and Pasadena. And they got that help when the Wolverines skunked the Buckeyes, 28-0.

There was one caveat in 1998.

Something called the Bowl Championship Series.

Not only did the Badgers need an Ohio State victory over Michigan, but they needed the Buckeyes to finish no higher than third in the final BCS standings.

And, oh yes, the UW needed to beat Penn State.

With less than six minutes remaining in the first quarter against the Nittany Lions, linebacker Chris Ghidorzi looked up to see what all the noise was about in Camp Randall Stadium.

"All of a sudden, the fans started cheering," said Ghidorzi, who then made eye contact with the scoreboard which had just posted a final score: Ohio State 31, Michigan 14.

His only thought? "You realized we were playing to go to the Rose Bowl," Ghidorzi said.

Burke's prayers for a miracle had been answered.

Ohio State's Joe Germaine passed for 330 yards and three touchdowns and Michael Wiley rushed for 120 yards - giving the Buckeyes a slice of the Big Ten championship along with Michigan.

The Badgers now had a chance to make it a three-way tie and they owned the tiebreaker. "We needed help and got it," Burke said. "So we had to go out and help ourselves."

Penn State was in position to throw the first punch. The Nittany Lions had a first-and-goal from the UW 4-yard-line. This would be a true measure of the Badgers' heart and defense.

On first down, linebacker Dan Lisowski dropped tailback Eric McCoo for a 3-yard loss. A 15-yard personal foul penalty marked off from the point of infraction pushed the Nittany Lions back to the 29.

On second down, defensive end John Favret held Mike Cerimele to a 4-yard gain on a draw.

On third down, cornerback Jamar Fletcher broke up a pass.

On fourth down, Travis Forney missed a 42-yard field goal. "That was a huge defensive stand," said UW coach Barry Alvarez, "because we started the game on our heels."

With 26 seconds remaining in the scoreless first quarter, Nick Davis, a true freshman, fielded a punt, picked up a block from Donte King and sprinted 82 yards for a touchdown, igniting the crowd.

"The energy that went through the stadium after that return was unbelievable," Davis said. "It was contagious, too. The offense felt it, the defense felt it, the fans got involved."

And the game opened up. Less than five minutes into the second quarter, UW quarterback Mike Samuel connected with Chris Chambers on a 26-yard scoring play. The Badgers then converted a Penn State turnover into a Matt Davenport field goal to take a commanding 17-0 halftime lead.

Burke, per usual, was the inspirational leader on defense for the Badgers.

"I knew I was going to have a good game because it was my last home game," said Burke, who finished with four quarterback sacks. "I'm not much of a talker but I got together with the seniors.

"I reminded them that every minute that goes by on the field is one less minute we get to play here at Camp Randall. I said, 'Don't regret any minute that you have left.'"

Tailback Ron Dayne tore his left pectoral muscle in the first quarter. At less than full strength, he still rushed 23 times for 95 yards. Mixing option keepers with draws, Samuel ran for a career-high 89.

On one of his 13 carries, Samuel took on All-American linebacker LaVar Arrington. The result was a thunderous collision that had Samuel popping up to his feet before the dazed Arrington.

"We knew we had to stop the option and we knew we had to stop Dayne," said Penn State icon Joe Paterno. "We did a decent job on Dayne, but not on Samuel. He really hurt us."

Samuel put the exclamation point on his effort by closing out the scoring with a short run in the fourth quarter, making it 24-3. By then, the celebration had already begun.

Everything had fallen into place for the Badgers, including the BCS. Ohio State wound up No. 4 in the final standings behind Tennessee, Florida State and Kansas State.

"These kids started two-a-day camp with one goal in mind and that was to go to the Rose Bowl," Alvarez said. "Our two senior captains, Cecil Martin and Bobby Adamov, came up to me and said, 'Coach, we came here not just to go to bowl games. We'd like to go to the Rose Bowl.'"

Alvarez considered the request and responded, "Enough said, that's our goal."

The '98 Badgers not only got to the Rose Bowl but they outscored UCLA, 38-31, behind Dayne's 246 rushing yards and four touchdowns to cap a near-perfect 11-1 season.

Craig James has been eating crow ever since. James, then a CBS analyst, called the Badgers the worst team to ever play in a Rose Bowl prior to their matchup against the Bruins.

"We're at least the second-worst team," Alvarez said afterward. "Give us credit for that."
ON WISCONSIN