INDIANAPOLIS — The moment that stirred Ohio State receiver K.J. Hill came in the locker room at halftime.
C.J. Saunders, a fellow receiver and one of the team's seven captains, spoke in front of the team. Though out for the season because of a meniscus injury and on crutches, he stood on a chair in front of players and coaches.
“He said, 'We're going to fight until we get to a victory,” Hill said, “and if you ain't going to fight, then just stay in the locker room.'”
Saunders was impassioned because the Buckeyes trailed Wisconsin by two touchdowns at halftime of the Big Ten championship game Saturday night.
“I kind of felt something put on my heart,” Saunders said.
It was the largest deficit Ohio State had faced this season. But during the second half, Hill caught two touchdown passes that positioned the Buckeyes for a 34-21 victory, their third straight conference championship and a closing case for the top seed in the College Football Playoff.
“The senior class led the way,” Hill said, “because we've been through a lot of games through our career, where we've been down crazy.”
The series of clutch plays from Hill began late in the third quarter as the Buckeyes trailed 21-17. Facing third-and-7, Justin Fields hit Hill for a 10-yard completion. It was a milestone catch, the 192nd of Hill's career, pushing him atop Ohio State's career list, ahead of David Boston, who grabbed 191 passes between 1996 and 1998.
It also pushed the Buckeyes closer to midfield on a critical go-ahead scoring drive. Four plays after the record-setting snag, Fields found Hill over the middle inside the 10-yard line before the senior leaped over a safety to cross the goal line, capping a 16-yard touchdown play and putting the Buckeyes up 24-21.
For most of the season, Hill said defenses had focused on stopping crossing routes. But he found a sliver of space.
“It's fun to catch balls in space and go to work,” Hill said.
Fields relished finding Hill open on the drive.
“K.J. was just doing K.J.,” Fields said. “He's a great receiver. He's smart, athletic.”
On the following series, Hill found himself in the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown catch as Fields scrambled outside the pocket.
Hill finished with seven catches for 83 yards and the pair of touchdowns, with five of the receptions over the final two quarters. As he reflected on his critical catches in the second half, Hill brought up the urgency.
“I had the mindset that we needed to score,” he said, “and I was just trying to do everything to put the team in the situation.”
Saunders, who once urged them on, admired the comeback.
“Obviously, K.J. and the guys all over the field made plays,” he said, “and I just couldn't be prouder to be these guys' teammates and be a leader on this team.”