After a rousing team rendition of "The Victors,"

By Richard Rosenblatt Associated Press Published:

After a rousing team rendition of "The Victors," Woodson entered the interview area, sat up on the podium and held the rose aloft: "Can you all smell that?"

Woodson produced one of the sweetest performances in the history of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, leading the top-ranked Wolverines to a 20-14 victory over the fourth-ranked Buckeyes on Saturday.

The win gave Michigan (11-0, 8-0 Big Ten) its first perfect season since 1971 and its first Rose Bowl berth since the 1992 season. And now, the Wolverines get a shot at their first national title since 1948, when they play the Pac-10 champion _ UCLA, Washington State or Arizona State _ in Pasadena on Jan. 1.

"For us, it's a dream season," coach Lloyd Carr said. "We never played when we didn't play hard. The chemistry has been really tremendous among these kids."

Also in the national title chase are No. 2 Florida State, which played No. 10 Florida on Saturday, and No. 3 Nebraska (10-0), which still has two games remaining.

For Ohio State (10-2, 6-2) and coach John Cooper, it was another devastating defeat. The past two seasons, the Wolverines spoiled Buckeyes' bids for perfect seasons and national title shots. And Cooper's record fell to 1-8-1 against Michigan.

"I'm tremendously disappointed we lost the game," Cooper said, "because we had a chance to beat the best team in the country."

But they couldn't overcome the nation's most exciting player. Woodson stated his Heisman Trophy case with a 37-yard catch to set up Michigan's first touchdown, a 78-yard punt return for a score just 2:39 later for a 13-0 lead and an end zone interception in the third quarter.

"He took over the game," Ohio State's wide receiver David Boston, who boasted this week that the Buckeyes could win by two or three TDs, said. "It was a great return. He played great defense all game long and had a great interception."

But Ohio State did not go down without a gallant fight. After Michigan took a 20-0 lead on Andre Weathers' 43-yard interception return for a score 4:31 into the third quarter, the Buckeyes made it close.

Joe Germaine threw a 56-yard TD pass to Boston, who beat Woodson on the play, with 4:50 left in the third quarter and Pepe Pearson scored on a 2-yard run with 13:08 remaining to make it 20-14.

But the Wolverines' top-rated defense held off the Buckeyes' high-powered offense, with Germaine throwing an incomplete pass on fourth-and-10 from the Buckeyes' 16 with 42 seconds left.

"I thought we were going to win the game until the last fourth-down pass was incomplete," Cooper said.

Michigan took over and ran out the clock and thousands of fans in the Michigan Stadium record crowd of 106,982 ran onto the field to celebrate the Wolverines' 16th outright Big Ten title.

"After we sang Hail to the Victors, I just wanted to go back on the field, like an encore," said quarterback Brian Griese, who joined dozens of teammates in doing just that. "I wanted to shake every fans' hand in the stands. I couldn't, but I'd say I got about 50 percent."

The game featured the nation's top two defenses, and there were only 441 yards of total offense, 189 by Michigan. It was Woodson's heroics that made the difference in this one.

Until the final eight minutes of the first half, the teams did nothing more than trade hard hits and punts, with the Wolverines punting on their first five possessions.

Not even defensive end Glen Steele's fumble recovery of Stanley Jackson's fumble at the Michigan 42 could wake up the Wolverines' offense.

Enter Woodson, the 6-foot-1, 198-pound dynamo. On third-and-12 at the Michigan 47, Woodson lined up between two other receivers, faked out cornerback Ahmed Plummer and cut to the middle, where Griese's pass was waiting at the Buckeyes 35. He got as far as the 16 before he was tripped up by cornerback Antoine Winfield.

Fullback Chris Floyd then dragged two Buckeyes with him for a 15-yard gain on the next play and Thomas scored from a yard out on the next play to put Michigan up 7-0 with 6:22 left in the half.

But Woodson was just warming up. Ohio State was forced to punt after three plays and Brent Bartholomew kicked a 55-yard beauty that was fielded by Woodson at the 22. He moved left, shook off a would-be tackle by linebacker Jerry Rudzinski and broke into the clear along the left sideline, outracing the Buckeyes for his 78-yard punt return.

He was smothered by several teammates in the end zone, and unlike Desmond Howard did on a 93-yard punt return against Ohio State in 1991, Woodson did not strike a Heisman pose.

Instead, he ran over to the sidelines to catch his breath, sitting out Ohio State's next series and letting Russell Shaw fielded the Buckeyes' next

"It reminded of Desmond Howard's," Cooper said of the return that sealed the Heisman for Howard. "We had guys down there, guys in position and we didn't wrap him up."

Woodson capped his day with 11:42 left in the third quarter. With the Buckeyes at the Michigan 7, Woodson stepped in front of Dee Miller and picked off Jackson's pass for his seventh interception to go with four TDs this season.

Jackson was 4 of 9 for 49 yards and Germaine was 5 of 17 for 84 yards and a TD. Germaine was sacked five times.

Griese was 14 of 25 for 147 yards and was sacked four times.

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