The definitive play of the game, the momentum and outcome clincher in the University of Wisconsin's win over the Fightin' Fibs of the University of Illinois, was pretty obvious to me as soon as it happened. No, it's not any of the interceptions, although the first (by Chris Maragos) and the third (by Niles Brinkley) were enormous plays. (Though as I've said, they were more the result of errors by Juice Williams and his freshman receiver Fred Sykes, than great defense by the Badgers. Hey Juice, when you throw two interceptions trying to force the ball to a freshman wideout, maybe it's time to stop throwing him the ball. I still can't believe Arrelious Benn only had two catches.) And it's not any of the obvious offensive plays, like David Gilreath's explosive run and catch, Garrett Graham's big gainer on Brit Miller, or Dustin Sherer's touchdown run. Rather, it's a play that didn't score, that didn't gain a ton of yards, and wasn't by one of the team's marquee players. It was a 13-yard run by sophomore running back Zach Brown.
At the time, Wisconsin was clinging to a 3 point lead in the fourth quarter, a lead only gained as a result of two field goals coming after the previously mentioned interceptions. And the team had finally pieced together a legitimate Wisconsin style drive-- run, run, playaction pass, pass, playaction pass-- with the last pass being Graham's 45 yarder. That put Wisconsin with a first and ten at Illinois' 20 with about five minutes left. A touchdown on this possession would be huge, perhaps victory clinching. Two solid runs by Clay gave Wisconsin a 3rd and 1 at the eleven, something I was confident even this undynamic offense could convert. But wait! Reliable blocking tight end Mickey Turner got his right arm caught on the outside of his man and was flagged for holding. 3rd and 1 turns into 3rd and 10. Suddenly, the alarm bells go off as visions of an incomplete pass or a sack, a precarious field goal, and a tenuous three or six point lead flash through my head. Uh oh.
But then Zach saves the day. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst goes with a conservative play call, a draw to Zach, and he burst up the middle to the left, slams into some defenders a yard or so short of the first down, but refuses to do down until he's several yards past the marker. First and goal at the seven: the drive lives! And the Wisconsin offense, thanks to Zach's burst and tenacity, is finally able to overcome its own mistakes.
Two plays later Sherer rolls right and hits Gilreath with a poorly thrown pass that David redeems for a (questionable) touchdown. A 10 point lead with less than four minutes left, and, given the defense's increased confidence, one that looks, and turns out to be, insurmountable. A great play by an unheralded and underappreciated young man. Way to go, Zach.