Late touchdown lifts Buckeyes over Badgers

Published 12:25 am Sunday, October 5, 2008

Terrelle Pryor passed his first big test for No. 14 Ohio State.

The freshman quarterback ran 11 yards for a touchdown with 1:08 left, and Chris ‘‘Beanie’’ Wells had 168 yards rushing and a TD, as the Buckeyes’ new double-threat backfield shined in a 20-17 victory over No. 18 Wisconsin on Saturday night.

The last time the Buckeyes (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten) played a marquee game under the lights, they got pounded by Southern California last month. Wells didn’t play in that game and Pryor, the talented freshman, wasn’t the starter.

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With Wells healthy and Pryor getting comfortable, Ohio State looks like a much different team.

The 19-year-old Pryor kept his poise in his third college start, leading Ohio State on two fourth-quarter scoring drives and snapping Wisconsin’s 16-game home winning streak. Coach Jim Tressel evened his record (3-3) against the Badgers (3-2, 0-2).

‘‘Every snap he gets, he learns from. He was under duress tonight,’’ Tressel said. ‘‘They were playing hard, they were coming after him, they were going to make him do things with lots of people in his face and he’s coming of age.’’

Pryor did it on the game-winning drive through the air and on the ground.

Trailing 17-13, Pryor twice found trusted receiver Brian Hartline for big gains, even though Hartline fumbled on the second completion for 27 yards and needed teammate Brian Robiske’s recovery to keep possession at the Wisconsin 35.

Wells, who has been wearing a lineman’s shoe to protect his injured foot, gained 13 yards on three carries, and Pryor added another first down on a third-and-1 sneak from the 15 with under 2 minutes to play.

Pryor, who finished with 144 yards passing and 20 yards rushing, then ran an option with Wells flared out wide. But he chose to keep it himself and reached the end zone after Wisconsin’s defense looked confused by the formation.

‘‘At times we did some good things, but he’s elusive, he presents a challenge in that we did good some of the time, but in the end on the last play we weren’t good enough,’’ Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said.

Said Tressel: ‘‘They didn’t get lined up, and we were saying ’Snap it! Snap it!’ because there wasn’t anyone over there.’’

Wisconsin quarterback Allan Evridge, who needed to play efficiently to give the Badgers a chance, committed his second turnover when Malcolm Jenkins intercepted his pass to seal the game with 53 seconds left.

Pryor, who made his share of head-scratching freshman plays and refused to throw a pass away when under duress, moved the Buckeyes in position to take its first lead since the first half, settling for Ryan Pretorius’ 34-yard field goal with just under 11 minutes to play to make it 13-10.

Wisconsin, needing to rebound after a demoralizing loss to Michigan, answered with a quick drive capped on third-and-goal from the 1 when P.J. Hill, who finished with 63 yards on 16 carries, powered through linebacker Ross Homan to give Wisconsin a 17-13 lead.

But Pryor proved to be the difference, snapping the Badgers’ 11-game winning streak at night and handing them their first lose at Camp Randall Stadium since Nov. 12, 2005, against Iowa.

‘‘It was nice to be an undefeated coach at home, but that’s not a stat I’m looking for,’’ Bielema said. ‘‘I’m just looking for wins this year and unfortunately we haven’t been able to get two of them.’’

Wells scored on a 33-yard run on Ohio State’s opening possession by just running through helpless safety Shane Carter, who was dragged to the end zone and the Buckeyes appeared ready to blow out the Badgers, but Pryor tossed an up-for-grabs throw down the sideline minutes later that was intercepted by Allen Langford.

Wisconsin tied it 7-7 when Evridge threw a 9-yard TD pass in the second quarter that capped a 15-play, 91-yard drive and Wisconsin took its first lead 10-7 off Philip Welch’s 20-yard field goal at the half.

Ohio State tied the game on its opening possession of the second half when Wells gained 54 yards by avoiding a pair of would-be tacklers and racing down the sideline to the Wisconsin 26.

Pryor then completed a third-down pass to keep the drive alive and ran to the 2 setting up first-and-goal before the Buckeyes’ drive stalled and they settled for Pretorius’ 21-yard field goal to tie the game at 10-all