Dylan Thompson danced and spun around on his good leg on the Ohio State sideline as teammate Michael Thomas wrapped his meaty mitts around Alabama quarterback Blake Sims for a 9-yard sack at the Crimson Tide 30.
It was only with about 11 minutes left in the third quarter. It was only with the Buckeyes having just rallied from the grave for a 27-21 lead after trailing mighty Bama 21-6 in the second quarter.
But symbolically, Thompson’s one-legged choreography (he broke a kneecap in August) was a dance on the Southeastern Conference’s grave.
It may seem hard to believe, it may seem like the stuff of legend from a bygone era like single-wing offenses and the days when there were just four bowl games, but 10 days from now, they will actually play a national championship game without an SEC team in it.
The SEC’s decade of dominance — some outside the SEC footprint would call it despotic tyranny — is finally kaput. Ohio State won the Sugar Bowl 42-35 and will play Oregon on Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas, in the inaugural College Football Playoff Championship Game.
And all the king’s horses and all Nick Saban’s dagger-filled glares and all the passes to the dazzling Amari Cooper couldn’t do a thing to change the outcome.
An SEC team played for the national championship every year of the BCS era from 2006-14, losing just once (Auburn to Florida State last year). This will be the first title game since the 2006 Rose Bowl between Texas and Southern California not to feature an SEC team.
Were this the old BCS days, Alabama would have been the No. 1 seed and already would have been in the championship game. But in this new world order you have to earn it, and that was something the Crimson Tide failed to do.
At first, it certainly looked like Bama would, though.
Early in the second quarter, Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones dropped back to pass and badly missed his target, Devin Smith, in the left flat. Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones casually snared the ball at his 47 like he was playing catch in the backyard and set sail to the Ohio State 15. Five plays later, the Crimson Tide had a 21-6 lead after a 2-yard touchdown run by T.J. Yeldon.
Well, that looked like it would be it. Nice season, Buckeyes. Thanks for playing. We have some parting gifts for you: a home board game version of the CFP and a plate of beignets.
What should anyone have expected? It was remarkable that Ohio State got this far. Jones was the Buckeyes’ third-string quarterback after earlier injuries to Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. Its next option was rumored to be Adam “The Waterboy” Sandler.
You don’t play for the national championship with a third-string quarterback. Most teams have no shot at it with their first-stringer. (No LSU quarterback jokes, please.)
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer used to coach against Alabama at Florida. He knew what his team was up against.
“You get down against a team like that, that’s number one in recruiting every year for the past six, seven years,” Meyer said. “Our guys know that. You see them on film. Great team. But we’re pretty good, too.”
It was at that point a remarkable thing happened in this string of remarkable things that has comprised Ohio State’s improbable march to the top: Jones didn’t crumble after such an awful mistake. Somehow he got better. He started carving yards out of the heart of Saban’s vaunted (though this year strangely vulnerable) defense, pulling the Buckeyes within 21-20 at the half.
Of course, it wasn’t all Jones’ doing. On second-and-10 at the Bama 13, the Buckeyes executed a double reverse with wide receiver Evan Spencer throwing a touchdown to a tight-roping Michael Thomas in the end zone.
The whole thing looked like a figure skating routine. I thought they’d call in a Russian judge on the instant replay to see if Thomas’ toe was down. He indeed stuck the landing and suddenly Ohio State was down just 21-20 at the break.
Adding fuel to the remarkable fire, Spencer wasn’t even the receiver who was the Ohio State backup quarterback in this one. That somewhat-dubious honor belonged to Jalin Marshall.
Just how many arms does Ohio State coach Urban Meyer have in that bullpen of his, anyway?
Enough to do the job, I guess.
“We’re part of history,” Meyer said of being part of the long-awaited college football playoff. “We didn’t want to swing and miss.”
If that trickery wasn’t shocking enough, Jones had a lightning bolt for Bama to start the second half. He went deep on Ohio State’s opening possession, 47 yards to Smith, giving the Buckeyes a 27-21 lead. A pick six by Steve Miller soon made it 34-21.
Alabama wasn’t done. As LSU fans can tell you, there seems to be no sticking a stake into this Dracula. Twice the Crimson Tide fell behind by double digits, but it was down just a touchdown in the closing seconds as Sims launched a Hail Mary into the end zone that Ohio State’s Tyvis Powell picked off as time expired.
After prevailing in the second-highest-scoring Sugar Bowl ever — only LSU’s 47-34 win over Illinois in 2002 produced more points — Ohio State probably will still be an underdog to Oregon in the CFP title game, just like the Buckeyes were to Bama.
But sometimes destiny trumps talent. Sometimes no injury, no deficit, no bad break can derail it.
If the Buckeyes didn’t feel like a team of destiny before — having lost two Heisman Trophy candidate quarterbacks over the course of the season — they sure have to now.
The Bucks against the Ducks. After Oregon clobbered Florida State 59-20 in the Rose Bowl, they might combine to score 100.
“Oregon won by 40?” Meyer asked in the postgame presser.
“I’ve got to go,” he said. “We’ve got to go get ready for that one.”
This College Football Playoff is pretty fun — especially if you love to hate the SEC.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter @RabalaisAdv.