Ohio State almost finds redemption

Tuesday, January 1st 2002, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ The Ohio State Buckeyes came looking for redemption in Tuesday's Outback Bowl.

And they came painfully close to getting it with an unbelievable comeback attempt.

Senior quarterback Steve Bellisari threw for two touchdowns and ran for another during a 28-point comeback that fell just short as the Buckeyes were beat 31-28 by South Carolina.

``When everybody talks about `the zone,' I feel I was in it,'' Bellisari said. ``Things just really started going our way in the second half. We just played football, and had fun slinging the ball around.''

Ohio State, trailing 28-0 late in the third, seemed headed for a second consecutive lackluster defeat against the Gamecocks.

``There wasn't anyone backing down,'' said first year Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. ``We were playing against a good team, but we didn't stop playing. That's what life is all about.''

South Carolina beat the Buckeyes 24-7 in the 2001 Outback Bowl.

Bellisari finished his college career by going 21 of 35 for 320 yards. Most of the production came in the fourth quarter when Bellisari completed 13 passes in 16 attempts for 202 yards.

Bellisari ended a 12-play, 77-yard drive with a two-yard run on the final play of the third period that cut the South Carolina lead to 28-7.

Bellisari then led three fourth quarter scoring drives as the Buckeyes drew even at 28-all with just under two-minutes left.

Sandwiched between 16 and 9 yard TD passes from Bellisari to Darnell Sanders, Jonathan Wells had a one-yard TD run.

``It was a great game to be part of,'' Sanders said. ``Even though we lost, we feel good that we came back like that.''

During the game-tying drive that went 89 yards in seven plays, Bellisari completed all six of his passes.

``We could not stop the pass, but we came back and won the game,'' South Carolina coach Lou Holtz said. ``Bellisari had a tremendous day and tremendous success.''

Bellisari did not play in the final two regular season games following his November arrest and suspension on drunken driving charges. He came off the bench Tuesday for the late heroics.

The Buckeyes opted to go deep in the final minute from their own 19. Sheldon Brown picked off Bellisari's pass and returned it 37 yards to the Ohio State 29.

Four plays later as time expired, Daniel Weaver's 42-yard field goal limped over the crossbar and gave South Carolina the 31-28 victory.

``When he kicked it, I didn't think it was going to make it,'' Bellisari said. ``It hung there kind of helpless. It just squeaked over. It was a tough one to watch.''

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