TERRY GILLIAM / AP Enlarge
TERRY GILLIAM / AP Enlarge
COLUMBUS - Nothing that took place during yesterday's Ohio State spring football game will be kept a secret. There were far too many witnesses.
The Buckeyes played what amounted to an organized scrimmage, and a national record crowd of 95,722 showed up to watch. Credit the warm and sunny weather with an assist, but Ohio State mania had to be the prevailing factor.
"That's the Buckeye Nation for you - it's amazing what this fan base is like," Ohio State freshman Jack Mewhort said. "At the beginning of the game I couldn't even hear the snap count, and one of the older guys just said 'get used to it.'•"
Mewhort, a St. John's Jesuit grad who was part of the victorious Gray team, said he came to Ohio State with an idea about how dedicated the Buckeyes' following is, but Saturday's experience was still an eye-opener.
"It's stunning to come out and see that stadium full like that - four months before the season even starts," Mewhort said. "It just tells you how important Ohio State football is to so many people."
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said the huge crowd that watched the Gray team defeat the Scarlet 23-3 offered another reinforcement of the breadth of the Buckeyes' appeal.
"Kudos go out to our fans, and the 95,000 and whatever that came out. That gives you a little bit of electricity and a little energy, and a reminder of how much interest there is in Ohio State football," Tressel said.
The record for a spring game crowd had been held by Alabama, which drew 92,138 for its 2007 spring game in head coach Nick Saban's first year at the school. Last week, the Crimson Tide had 84,050 in Bryant-Denny Stadium for its spring game.
Saturday's Ohio State spring game drew more fans than all but five of the 119 Division I college football teams averaged for home attendance in the 2008 season.
"Getting the record is great, but record or not, that crowd was awesome," Ohio State defensive lineman Todd Denlinger said. "We got a great day weather-wise, and it looked like the fans came from all over the place. People are so passionate about the Buckeyes, and it just motivates you to play even harder."
Ohio State played last year's spring game in the rain, but still drew a crowd of 76,346. Like last year, yesterday's football spring game was coupled with an Ohio State men's lacrosse game in a two-sport doubleheader.
The Buckeyes set an NCAA men's lacrosse regular-season record with yesterday's crowd of 30,192 that watched No. 3 Notre Dame take a 14-8 win in Ohio Stadium, prior to the football spring game.
In the football portion of the doubleheader, sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor threw a couple of long touchdown passes to lead the Gray team, while senior Aaron Pettrey kicked three field goals for the winners. Pryor said the big crowd provided an environment that will help the Buckeyes progress.
"We've been practicing for a month, but at practice you don't have the distractions you get with a stadium packed full of people," Pryor said. "Today was great - the fans got to see their Buckeyes running around and playing a little, and we got a lot of opportunities to execute in game-like conditions. When there's 95,000 fans in the stadium, it forces you to really focus in on what you're doing."
A 31-yard Pettrey field goal gave the Gray a 3-0 first quarter lead. Late in the second quarter, Pryor released a long throw to Taurian Washington, who was streaking down the sideline and had slipped behind veteran defensive back Chimdi Chekwa. Washington took the ball in-stride just inside the end zone for a 44-yard score, and the Gray led 10-0 with less than a minute left in the first half.
Pettrey then executed an onside kick, and caught the Scarlet team off-guard. The Gray team recovered the kick at the 41, and that put the ball back in Pryor's hands. After a 17-yard completion to Washington and a couple of incomplete passes, the Gray had a third down at the Scarlet 42 with nine seconds left.
Pryor stepped up through the pocket as the rush curled outside of him, then fired a bullet to Ray Small along the sideline, just inside the 20 yardline. Small cut back to avoid a couple of tacklers and reached the end zone for the 42-yard touchdown. Pettrey's kick gave the Gray a 17-0 advantage.
"I thought those were tough conditions - the wind was pretty nasty - and Terrelle threw it extremely well, especially on a couple of the longer ones," Tressel said. "When you put in the time and effort that Terrelle does . . . you're going to get some results, and Terrelle's an extremely hard worker."
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Nothing that took place during yesterday's Ohio State spring football game will be kept a secret. There were far too many witnesses. The Buckeyes played what amounted to an organized scrimmage, and a national record crowd of 95,722 showed up to watch.