Scarlet and gray may have taken over the French Quarter, but it didn’t overwhelm the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The split in noise and color was indistinguishable and even trended a bit toward Alabama on Thursday night during the Sugar Bowl, site of the College Football Semifinals.
The trek from Columbus, Ohio, to New Orleans is 911 miles — more than triple the length from Alabama’s Tuscaloosa campus to the Superdome.
Several fans from both sides pointed to the distance differential as a key culprit in the separation between what was seen on Bourbon Street and Poydras Street.
“We used this as our family vacation to come down here for New Year’s,” said Jim Coswell of Cleveland, who traveled with a group of Buckeyes fans. “I think a lot of OSU fans were like that. So we were here longer and made sure to see the sights and take in New Orleans. It was a lot of fun and I felt like there were a lot more of us.”
This was Ohio State’s third appearance in New Orleans since 2008, after it lost to LSU in the national championship game following the 2007 season and beat Arkansas on Jan. 4, 2011. However, that pales in comparison to Alabama’s frequent trips to the Superdome.
The Crimson Tide was in New Orleans for the third time in past four seasons, after winning the national championship over LSU in 2012 two years before losing to Oklahoma in 2014.
“It was just easier for us to make the drive during the day,” said William Robertson of Hoover, Alabama. “We’ve been here a lot and it’s always a good party — but with hotels and tickets and maybe having to go to Dallas (for the national championship game), it was just too much to make it a whole trip. So we left this morning and are leaving after the game.”
Both teams enjoyed a touch of home inside the Dome.
Following a first-quarter field goal, Ohio State fans spelled out “O-H-I-O” across the stadium in a scene reminiscent of the Horseshoe in Columbus.
After Alabama’s first-quarter touchdown a “Roll Tide, Roll” chant broke out on the other end of the stadium.
“It’s a great experience and it’s just cool to say you were at the first ever playoff,” Coswell said. “Who knows when you’re going to be back?”
J.K. Scott may not be the most recognized player on Alabama’s star-studded roster, but the freshman punter made the Crimson Tide’s earliest impact.
After coming up empty on its first two offensive drives, Alabama was forced to punt deep in its own territory, and Scott changed the field.
He started by unleashing a 53-yard boom that helped hold the Buckeyes to a field goal, despite a 54-yard Ezekial Elliott run.
Then Scott connected on a 73 yard blast that pinned Ohio State at its own 20-yard line despite OSU forcing a three-and-out defensively. One snap later, Elliott fumbled and Landon Collins recovered deep in OSU territory, setting up Derrick Henry’s touchdown and Alabama’s first lead of the night.
Scott chipped in on another Crimson Tide touchdown in the second quarter when his 55-yard punt resulted in a fair catch at OSU’s 5-yard line, which eventually led to an interception.
“I think having a specialist is a key to be able to control vertical field position,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said earlier this week. “You know that’s an important part of what special teams does for you. He’s certainly impacted that about as well as anybody could in terms of the job that he’s done for us as a punter.”
Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett wore No. 53 to honor former teammate Kosta Karageorge, who committed suicide on Dec. 6.
Bennett, who typically wears No. 63, also donned his friend’s uniform number in the Buckeyes’ 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game after serving as his pallbearer just days before.
The rest of the Buckeyes also honored Karageorge by wearing a sticker with No. 53 on its helmets.
Dennis Haysbert, a commercial spokesman for Allstate, was tabbed to oversee the opening coin toss for Thursday’s game.
Haysbert, an actor who most famously portrayed Pedro Cerrano in the “Major League” movies, served as the public face for the Sugar Bowl’s title sponsor.
It served in contrast to the Rose Bowl, which had its committee chairman placed in charge of coin-flipping honors.