Northwestern looked like it might be on its way to that signature win, the kind that would show the Wildcats can beat the best in the Big Ten.
Ohio State simply refused to sign off on it.
So the Wildcats settled for a close loss, knowing they gave the Buckeyes their best shot on a wet and wild night at Ryan Field and it still wasn't enough.
Carlos Hyde ran for a career-high 168 yards and three touchdowns, and No. 4 Ohio State rallied to beat No. 16 Northwestern 40-30 Saturday and extend the nation's longest win streak to 18 games.
"Every guy that stepped out on the field put everything he had on the field, left nothing out there," the Wildcats' Kain Colter said.
It just wasn't quite enough to knock off the Buckeyes (6-0, 2-0), who remained undefeated since Urban Meyer took over as coach last year.
A win would have cemented the Wildcats (4-1, 0-1) among the best in the conference. Instead, it slipped away down the stretch.
On a rain-soaked field and with a prime-time audience watching, Ohio State rallied from 10 down in the third quarter to take out a team aiming to show it could beat the best in the conference.
Hyde, who was suspended for the first three games after an alleged conflict with a female in a bar this summer, prevented that. He scored on a 4-yard run late in the third and added two more touchdowns in the final quarter to lift the Buckeyes.
"I go out every game with the mindset that I have to make up for those three games," Hyde said.
He was credited with a 2-yard touchdown after a replay review early in the fourth to put Ohio State ahead 26-23.
Then, after Northwestern's Trevor Siemian connected with Cameron Dickerson on a 12-yard score, Hyde ran it in from the 7 with 5:22 left in the game. That made it 34-30.
"We all make mistakes," coach Urban Meyer said. "I think this is a game changer for him."
Colter got stopped on fourth-and-1 at the Ohio State 34 with 2:43 left after he picked up his own fumble, wiping out a late threat. The game ended with Northwestern lateralling and the Buckeyes recovering the loose ball in the end zone.
Hyde came up big with Jordan Hall nursing a knee injury, and Ohio State pulled this one out even though Braxton Miller had a rough night. He threw for 203 yards but had an interception and fumbled twice after matching a career-high with four touchdown passes against Wisconsin last week. He also ran for 68 yards.
Corey Brown added 127 yards receiving, and the defense delivered five sacks, sending the Buckeyes to their 29th win in their past 30 games with the Wildcats.
Northwestern hasn't beaten a Top-five team since it opened the 1959 season with wins over No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 5 Iowa.
"There's a team getting on the bus going back to Columbus that just got into a fight with (our) football team," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "That's what I'll take from this game."
And there's a team staying in Evanston that has the Buckeyes' respect.
"Very, very good players. Borderline great players," Meyer said. "And a scheme that's hard to defend."
Siemian threw 245 yards and two touchdowns against a defense missing one of its leaders in safety Christian Bryant. He broke his left ankle late in last week's game and is expected to miss the rest of the regular season.
Kain Colter completed all 12 passes for 98 yards and had a touchdown catch early in the game.
Rashad Lawrence had 149 yards receiving.
Venric Mark ran for 60 yards after missing three games with a lower body injury, but instead of a signature victory, Northwestern came away with a tight loss.
"If we play a complete game, I don't care who we're going up against, we're going to go out there and get that win," linebacker Damien Proby said. "We didn't get to that point, playing all three phases."
Northwestern was leading 23-20 early in the fourth when Doran Grant stepped in front of Lawrence to pick off a pass by Siemian at the 23. He returned it 7 yards to the Northwestern 16, and on third-and-goal at the 2, Hyde reached across the goal line and was credited with the touchdown after a replay review.
That delighted the Buckeyes' fans, but the Northwestern crowd had plenty to cheer moments later.
Siemian connected with Lawrence on a 67-yard slant to the 7. Then, with the ball at the 12, a scrambling Siemian found Dickerson in the end zone on third down. Just like that, the Wildcats were back on top, 30-27, but in the end, it was Ohio State's night.
"Everybody got their mind right in the second half," Hyde said.