COLUMBUS, Ohio – From the moment they first joined Ohio State's football team, quarterback Kenny Guiton and receiver Chris Fields have been in the background.
Fans and reporters brushed by them to get to the starters. Their names seldom were mentioned unless it was someone casting doubt whether they could even fill in if they were suddenly thrust into a game when it mattered.
For years, Guiton and Fields had wondered when — or if — their moment would ever arrive.
"We've been behind some great guys," Giuton said, "so we always talk about when our time comes, we have to take advantage."
They did, finally, on a crisp Saturday last week. They made up for all the slights by hooking up on a dramatic, last-minute touchdown against Purdue that helped the ninth-ranked Buckeyes avoid their first loss.
Finally, it was their time to step into the spotlight.
"I (used to say to Kenny), 'I wish just me and you can go out there and play,'" Fields recalled. "That's crazy how it ended up being like that."
With starting quarterback Braxton Miller in the hospital for observation after a hard tackle, and leading receiver Corey Brown out with a slight head injury, Guiton and Fields got a baptism by fire. Purdue led the Buckeyes by eight points in the second half. The clock was ticking. And the Buckeyes weren't making a whole lot of headway.
Guiton had thrown a pass that was tipped away and intercepted with 2:40 to left, giving the Boilermakers — 18½-point underdogs — a clear opportunity to run out the clock.
But Ohio State's defense, benefiting from an offsides call, held. The Buckeyes got the ball back at their own 39 with 47 seconds left. They needed to go 61 yards, score a touchdown and add the two-point conversion just to extend the game.
On first down, Guiton, a fourth-year junior from Houston, avoided pressure and found Devin Smith all alone along the left sideline for 39 yards. Six plays later, a pass interference call gave the Buckeyes a first down at the Purdue 3. On the next snap, Guiton dropped and then glided to his left before firing a low, hard pass that Fields appeared to pluck right off the very surface of the turf with 3 seconds remaining in regulation. It touched off a wild celebration, before and after the play was video-reviewed.
"That was an amazing moment because it's something ... me and Chris have been great friends since we got here," Guiton said. "For us to get that shot and it's me and him actually completing the pass, it was unbelievable."
It was the second touchdown pass Guiton had ever thrown, and the second that Fields, also an overlooked fourth-year junior, had ever caught. Fields did not have a reception all season before the second half of the Buckeyes' eighth game.
Only two points and one play separated the teams now.
Guiton took the snap and coasted to his left, patiently taking his time. Freshman tight end Jeff Heuerman feigned a block, got tangled with right tackle Reid Fragel, then suddenly appeared, all alone, with several defenders just in front of him at the goal line. Guiton fluttered a soft, cautious pass just over the defense to Heuerman for the tie.
Ohio State, with Guiton completing a key 17-yard pass, then scored in the overtime and held the Boilermakers for its eighth straight win this season.
After the game, Guiton's phone blew up with texts, congratulatory calls and happy emails. Fields, previously a forgotten man, was suddenly getting noticed on campus, having students come up to him to say what a great job he did.
"Some of the efforts I saw tonight were legendary," coach Urban Meyer said. Then, speaking of the dramatic late score that might have salvaged a season, the 11-year head coach with three national championships added, "I mean, that was a moment that I'll certainly never forget."
At Sunday night's team dinner, the players howled when a video was shown of the last-minute drive. Meyer kept yelling out, "Kenny G! Kenny G!" Guiton's and Fields' teammates patted them on the back and laughed with them. They respect them for what they've been through, for how long they've waited for this precious moment in time.
There were times when the two players had thought maybe they didn't fit into Ohio State's plans. There were times they considered quitting school, packing up, going home and trying a fresh start elsewhere.
"It's tough. You get down on yourself a few times, thinking you can't do it," Guiton said. "But at the same time, my parents and my teammates just kept me up, kept me moving forward and were motivation for me to just keep working."
Now what passes for normalcy has returned to Ohio State's practices. Miller, who appeared to be gravely injured on Saturday, was found to have nothing serious wrong with him beyond a sore neck. He is again the starter for Saturday's big showdown at Penn State.
The injured receivers, Brown among them, have recovered. Fields has returned to his customary spot, backing up the others.
It speaks volumes that when both players spoke with reporters after Wednesday night's practice, they were asked 32 questions — and half of them were about how Miller was feeling, how he looked in practice, if he seemed like his old self.
Guiton and Fields smiled and answered everything. They know that the stars get all the attention. They are content with the fact that when presented with a season-saving situation they came through.
"I've been very humbled with what I've been doing — going out every day at practice, staying positive and working hard," Fields said.
An instant after their connection on the touchdown pass, Guiton rushed up and said something to Fields, with whom he shares a similar role on one of the nation's top teams.
"(He told me) that he loves me and we are just like brothers," Fields said. "We work hard each day. It's a privilege that I was able to catch that ball."
Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap