COLUMBUS, Ohio – For 90 years, Ohio State has stayed unbeaten against every in-state opponent it's played.
On Saturday at Ohio Stadium, the streak nearly snapped.
John Simon pressured backup Toledo quarterback Terrance Owens, forcing an incompletion on fourth down with 48 seconds left, to preserve No. 15 Ohio State's 27-22 victory over the error-prone Rockets.
The Rockets, striving to become the first team from the state to defeat the Buckeyes since 1921, weren't disconsolate that they lost so much as upset that they had a hand in their own undoing. They threw one interception, had 102 yards in penalties, missed a 45-yard field goal, mishandled the hold on a 50-yard field-goal attempt, gave up a special-teams touchdown and continually made mistakes that saved Ohio State drives or shortened their own.
"There's no doubt," starting quarterback Austin Dantin said when asked if the Rockets had let the game slip away. "We had (14) penalties, a missed field goal, another missed opportunity on a field goal, then had a punt returned against us — things that are just inexcusable."
The Rockets (1-1) drove from their own 28 and were 17 yards away from ending Ohio State's 43-0-1 run against in-state foes since a 7-6 setback to Oberlin in 1921. But they couldn't finish the deal.
"We got some respect, but that wasn't what we were trying to get," said Toledo defensive end Malcolm Riley.
The Rockets led 15-7 after a quarter and were on top 22-21 before Carlos Hyde went 3 yards for the winning points late in the third quarter.
The Buckeyes (2-0) only had to run out the clock on their last possession, but freshman Rod Smith lost a fumble to give the Rockets a final shot. But then Simon, who went to the locker room earlier in the game with leg cramps, turned the tide.
"That was huge. We knew we had to stop them or they were going to win the game," Simon said of his late pressure. "It was a big play for us. The secondary did a great job covering and giving me extra time to get back there."
Several players made big plays for the Buckeyes, who travel to Florida to play Miami next week.
Chris Fields returned a punt 69 yards and Hyde ran for two scores for the Buckeyes, still reeling from NCAA suspensions which held out seven top players.
"I think and I hope that this is what's going to make us better, all the adversity," interim head coach Luke Fickell said.
Down 21-15 at the half, the Rockets took the second-half kickoff and, five plays later, took a one-point lead after Adonis Thomas ran 4 yards on fourth and 1.
After a punt, the Rockets drove to the Ohio State 33. But a fumbled snap ended any chance of a 50-yard field goal.
The Buckeyes promptly came back. The key was a 36-yard pass from Joe Bauserman to Devin Smith, and Hyde capped the march with the TD run. A failed 2-point conversion pass kept the margin at five points.
Toledo punted away the ball on its next three possessions. After the third, the Buckeyes got the ball with 5:45 left at their own 25. A 31-yard completion from Bauserman to Smith gave Ohio State a first down at the Toledo 33.
But then Rod Smith fumbled after a 5-yard gain and the Rockets' Johnathan Lamb fell on the loose ball.
Suddenly, the game was in doubt and Ohio State's in-state winning streak was in jeopardy.
"We knew the game was on the line," said Buckeyes defensive back Tyler Moeller. "It was up to the defense to win it. You're bummed he did fumble but you're excited the game's in your hands."
Down 7-0, the Rockets scored on consecutive possessions to knock the Buckeyes back on their heels.
First, Dantin, who was 14 of 26 for 155 yards and one score, hit Eric Page for a 6-yard touchdown. Page then took a direct snap in a spread set and passed to Hank Keighley for the two-point conversion. The scoring drive was a short one, set up when Kishon Wilcher blocked an Ohio State punt and T.J. Fatinikun rumbled 23 yards to the Ohio State 1 with it.
The touchdown marked the first points Toledo had scored against its big, downstate neighbors. The Rockets had been steamrolled by a combined 87-0 in two previous losses in 1998 and 2009.
After forcing a Buckeyes punt, the Rockets came right down and did it again. This time Owens tossed a 66-yard touchdown pass to Page, who had beaten Ohio State's C.J. Barnett deep.
The Buckeyes rebounded. They'd scored the first time they touched the ball on offense, with Bauserman, who was 16 of 30 for 189 yards in a surprising solo performance (co-starter Braxton Miller never left the sideline), hitting his favorite target, tight end Jake Stoneburner, on a 26-yard scoring strike.
Hyde burst through a hole off left tackle and angled to the sideline on a 36-yard touchdown run.
Toledo then committed a critical mistake.
Vince Penza's punt rolled dead at the Ohio State 17 with a minute left in the half, but the Rockets were offside on the kick. The ball was brought back and Penza kicked again — this time a line drive directly to a waiting Fields who was nearly tripped but regained his footing and raced to the end zone.
The game still would come down to one play.
"That's what we intended to do: In the fourth quarter, to be there, to give yourself a chance to win it," Toledo coach Tim Beckman said. "We fell (17) yards short."