Simon’s Return Keyed Buckeyes’ Late Stop
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Like Willis Reed in game seven of the 1970 NBA Finals, John Simon made his triumphant return Saturday just in time to save Ohio State’s season.
Photo by Dan Harker
Simon didn’t have a torn thigh muscle like Reed against the Lakers, but without his play down the stretch the Buckeyes may very well have fallen victim to their first in-state opponent in nearly a century.
“It was huge,” linebacker Etienne Sabino said of Simon’s return.
“John Simon is an unstoppable force. I think we all know that and we've all seen it. Anytime you get back a John Simon, a Nate Williams, anybody, big Hank, it's great for our team.”
Williams was sidelined Saturday by what is being called a bone bruise in his leg, which meant guys like Simon, Johnathan Hankins (Big Hank) and Adam Bellamy were going to have to pick up the slack in getting after the Toledo quarterbacks.
But Simon came limping off the field in the second half. He fell to his knees on the sideline and had to be helped to the locker room while his teammates were in the thick of it with a Toledo team that simply would not quit.
John Simon puts on the pressure late in the game against Toledo
Photo by Jim Davidson
“John is not an out‑of‑shape guy by any means, but emotionally sometimes things happen and he starts to cramp up a little bit,” OSU Head Coach Luke Fickell said.
“We've got to do a better job, and he's got to do a better job of making sure they get that under control because we need him out there. Hopefully we'll do a better job with that.”
With Simon out of the game, freshman Michael Bennett stepped in and played well in his absence.
“I don't know if it was about me, it might have just been the fresh legs, and the fact that it was the fourth quarter,” said Bennett, a rookie out of Centerville.
“But I wouldn't say that was me. I think the defense responded and I was lucky enough to be on the field when they responded.”
The Ohio State defense had given up the go-ahead touchdown on Toledo’s first possession of the second half, but not much after that. They held the Rockets off the scoreboard the rest of the third quarter, thanks to some impressive punts by Ben Buchanan, but Simon’s departure seemed to give them new life.
“We just knew that we couldn't let them into the end zone,” safety Orhian Johnson said.
“A lot of adversity comes during the game, and you know that you've got to adjust to each and every one of them. But as long as we didn't let them in the end zone, we felt confident about it.”
But the OSU offense couldn’t put the game away, even after the Buckeyes took a 27-22 lead with 3:17 to play in the third quarter. The Buckeyes were forced to punt on their third play of the fourth quarter and then proceeded to go three-and-out on the next possession.
It felt like eventually the Rockets were going to break through for the big score that would bring mighty Ohio State to its knees.
John Simon struck first.
After getting fluids in the locker room, Simon returned to the field in the fourth quarter and immediately changed the dynamic at the line of scrimmage.
“He's an animal,” Ohio State center Michael Brewster said.
“He works out every day of the week probably about three times. He's crazy. I saw him once run all the way around the (offensive) tackle and make the sack. It's pretty impressive.”
The 6-2, 270-pound junior instantly commanded the attention of Toledo’s offensive line, and single-handedly put a stop to their next drive with a third-down sack on quarterback Austin Dentin.
“He definitely has a high motor, and with him having a chance to sit down for a little bit and get some more fluids back in him, and then get him back running, it was definitely a plus for us,” Johnson said.
“And then having him out there fresh and getting after the quarterback, I'll take that any day.”
With Simon and Bennett in the game together, along with Hankins and Bellamy, the Buckeyes were getting pressure on Toledo’s final drive, but quarterback Terrance Owens was getting the ball out quick.
He completed an 18-yard screen pass to Adonis Thomas to get the Rockets out near midfield and then connected with speedster Eric Page on 4th-and-14 to stun the crowd of 105,000 that thought for sure the game was over before Rod Smith’s fumble.
With the Buckeyes clinging to life inside their own red zone, Simon made the biggest play of them all. As Owens dropped back on a 4th-and-5 at the OSU 16 yard line, Simon came off the edge and hit the Toledo quarterback as he attempted to deliver the football.
It sputtered harmlessly to the Turf as Simon slammed Owens down with it.
“It's absolutely a game of inches. Every second counts,” Simon said.
“As a defensive front, we have to get to the quarterback as quickly as possible and don't take our time getting there. Luckily on that play we were able to get there pretty quickly and force a bad throw.”
There wasn’t much luck involved, just a lot of heart.
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