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Published: Sunday, 11/13/2005

Talented Buckeye seniors leave mark on Ohio Stadium

COLUMBUS - Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk took full advantage of his last chance to dance at the Shoe.

Fifteen other seniors joined Hawk in their rendition of twist and shout.

Their final home game was filled with tears and euphoria.

It started with the chalk talk, carried over to the pregame warm-ups and introductions, and wrapped up when the final clock flashed all zeroes.

In between, 10th-ranked Ohio State made quite an impression, bulldozing Northwestern 48-7.

Yesterday's dazzling performance capped an incredible four-year run at home for the Buckeyes' seniors, who lost just twice in 29 games at Ohio Stadium.

It was indeed a special day.

As the seniors left the home field in their scarlet and gray uniforms for the final time, the fans chanted, "Four more years."

"I don't think it's completely hit me yet," Hawk said. "I don't think it really can until you're actually done and you have no games left.

"We know we still have a big Michigan game next week, so that's the biggest thing on my mind.

"But it is special, coming here and playing your final game and seeing your parents out there on the field - that's a huge day for them. To see my mom cry, it didn't really affect me too much, because she's been crying for about six months, thinking about this day."

As usual, Hawk was the brightest star among the seniors.

The All-American and Butkus Award finalist had eight tackles (pushing him over 100 for the third consecutive year) and one sack, forced a fumble, and returned a blocked punt eight yards for his second career touchdown.

"You know how all of us feel about A.J.," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "We think he ought to be the Butkus Award winner and win all the rest of those awards, so to add a touchdown to his resume is pretty neat."

Several other seniors also contributed to the lopsided win.

Linebacker Anthony Schlegel tied Hawk for the team lead in tackles, and Bobby Carpenter, the third member of the talented trio, was third with six stops.

Kicker Josh Huston from Findlay converted two field goals.

Defensive end Mike Kudla, tackle Marcus Green, cornerback Tyler Everett, and free safety Nate Salley joined Hawk, Schlegel, and Carpenter in limiting the Wildcats to a season-low 251 yards of total offense.

Northwestern also was held to just 98 yards rushing, its poorest output of the season.

Offensively, center Nick Mangold and guard Rob Sims played key roles in helping the Buckeyes rush for a season-high 317 yards and five touchdowns.

And Ohio State's offense was 7-for-7 in the red zone en route to scoring a season high in points. There were no senior moments. It has been a satisfying ride, an enjoyable jaunt, to this point.

"I couldn't ask for a better university or a better team or a better coach or better teammates," Sims said. "I'll remember this for the rest of my life."

Even so, Ohio State's 16 seniors - who are 41-8 overall - tempered their post-game celebration.

The Buckeyes still have unfinished business to tackle.

They dropped their only previous trip to the Big House in 2003, and Ohio State is just 2-9 in Ann Arbor since 1983.

Beating Michigan Saturday would be a perfect sendoff for the seniors.



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