65th Annual Sugar Bowl Classic ~ January 1, 1999
#3 Ohio State 24 (Final: 11-1, #2)
#8 Texas A&M 14 (Final: 11-3, #11)
How Ohio State and Texas A&M Met in the 1999 Sugar Bowl
“We’ll play head-to-head with anybody.”
The Buckeye contingent loudly let its unhappy feelings be known when the Superdome’s video screens showed a piece on the Bowl Championship Series that called the game at the Fiesta Bowl “the first true national championship.”
But the Aggies quickly quieted the Buckeyes.
In a game bracketed by big plays in the kicking area, Texas A&M put the first points on the board, driving 59 yards, gaining ground on each of its six plays against the country’s No. 2-ranked defense, and getting a touchdown on a nine-yard run by Dante Hal.
Then, though, Ohio State flew to a near-insurmountable lead with three touchdowns in a span of six minutes, 35 seconds. That, in a nutshell, was the story of the 65th Sugar Bowl.
Ohio State’s spurt included an 18-yard scoring pass from quarterback Joe Germaine to Reggie Germany after overcoming a third-and-15 situation. Germaine hit Dee Miller for 28 yards, and five plays later the Buckeyes tied the game. Then Ohio State went ahead on a 10-yard run by Joe Montgomery.
Even though the game was still in the first quarter, the outcome may have been put out of reach for the Aggies when A & M’s Shane Lechler suffered the first blocked punt of his career. Rich Coady missed a block on Derek Ross, and Ohio State’s outside rusher came firing through, smothering the ball as Lechler dropped it toward his foot. Kevin Griffin picked up the loose ball and returned it 16 yards for the touchdown that gave the Buckeyes a 21-7 first period margin.
It was the first blocked punt allowed by A&M since its 1993 Oklahoma game, and was the first blocked punt returned for a touchdown in the Sugar Bowl since 1965, when Syracuse’s Brad Clarke brought one back 28 yards against LSU.
Ohio State, which stretched its advantage to 24-7 by the half, should have had this one tucked away, but really couldn’t breathe easily. The Buckeyes converted only one of six third-down situations in the first half, and kicker Don Stultz missed two field-goal attempts of 49 and 47 yards in the second half, the latter ricocheting off the right upright.
The Aggies, with the help of three Ohio State penalties that accounted for 40 of the necessary 68 yards, scored a third-quarter touchdown on an seven-yard pass to LeRoy Hodge to cut the Buckeye lead to 10.
A&M was in position to again pull off one its late game heroics.
But just when it was needed most by Ohio State, senior linebacker Jerry Rudzinski stood tall. In a series of clutch plays, Rudzinski helped brake A&M’s late momentum.
With 10:30 to play in the fourth period, with a first down at the Buckeye 43, quarterback Branndon Stewart flung a swing pass – actually a lateral – out to Hall. Rudzinski tipped the pass, then beat Hall to the ball, recovering at the Aggies’ 48.
He later broke up a pass, and Winfield deflected yet another, forcing a punt with 6:40 remaining.
Rudzinski’s final tackle, an open-field stop of fullback Ja’Mar Toombs after a short reception, helped stymie what turned out to be A&M’s last possession.
Other than the game’s opening drive and the penalty-aided touchdown drive in the third period, the Aggies never advanced beyond their 47, and even that was on a meaningless 19-yard completion on the final play of the first half.
“We played a great football team in Ohio State, and we came up a little short,” Aggie coach R.C. Slocum said. “When you’re playing a team as talented as Ohio State, you can’t fall behind like we did,”
Yet Ohio State never did quite shake the Aggies, who outgained the Buckeyes 152-140 in the second half. The Buckeyes, who scored no points after intermission, hardly had a powerful case for the dominance they need to impress voters.
No matter. Tennessee beat Florida State 23-16 in Tempe to settle matters in the AP poll. Ohio State finished second.
“We’ll play head-to-head with anybody,” a frustrated Boston said, knowing full well Ohio State would never get that chance.
But the state was set for football’s next big coming attraction: the showcase Sugar Bowl of 2000.
Story excerpted from the book “Sugar Bowl Classic: A History” by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.