Jack Looks Back: Ohio State defeated Northwestern for first Big Ten title in 1916

Jack Park For The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio State will face Big Ten West Division winner Northwestern Saturday evening at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, for the 2018 Big Ten title. The Buckeyes captured the East Division title last week with a devastating 62-39 home victory over Michigan. The Buckeyes’ 62 points are the most ever surrendered in regulation play by the Wolverines in their 139 seasons of football. Their previous high was a 58-12 loss to Cornell in 1891. Michigan gave up 65 points during a 67-65 triple-overtime home victory over Illinois in 2010. The score was 45-45 at the end of regulation play.

Ohio State and Northwestern will be meeting for the 77th time. The Buckeyes have dominated the series at 61-14-1, including victories during 30 of the last 31 games. The Wildcats’ last triumph is a 33-27 overtime win at Evanston in 2004. The two have previously met 41 times in Columbus and 34 times in Evanston. The 1991 game was played at old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, where Ohio State won 34-3.

The Wildcats were very successful during the late-1950’s and early-1960's, under the leadership of coach Ara Parseghian. His 1958 squad stunned the Buckeyes 21-0 at Evanston, handing 5th-ranked Ohio State its only loss that season. It was OSU's first setback in 15 games, and it prevented the Buckeyes from repeating as Big Ten champions. Parseghian’s teams also won at Ohio Stadium in 1962 and 1963 by scores of 18-14 and 17-8. He had followed Woody Hayes as head coach at Miami (Ohio) when Hayes became head coach at Ohio State in 1951.

Northwestern was one of seven charter members of the Western Conference (now Big Ten) in 1896. Ohio State joined the league in 1913, 17 seasons later. The Buckeyes closed their 1916 season at home against Northwestern. Both teams were 6-0, and the winner would emerge with the school's first league title. 

A November 25 near-capacity crowd of 11,979 braved the bitter cold of wind-swept Ohio Field. The contest matched the Big Ten's two leading halfbacks, OSU’s Chic Harley and Northwestern's John "Paddy" Driscoll. In the opening quarter, Harley kicked a 34-yard field goal to give his team a slender 3-0 halftime lead. Early in the final quarter the visitors tied the game when Driscoll drop-kicked a low bullet from the OSU 38 that barely cleared the crossbar.

The remainder of the afternoon belonged to the Buckeyes. Harley sent the crowd into an uproar with a 63-yard touchdown run around his own right end. The blocking was excellent and coach John Wilce often referred to this run as "the perfect play."  Harley scored again on a 15-yard sweep, and set up fullback Frank Sorensen's two-yard touchdown plunge with a 28-yard pass to Clarence MacDonald. 

Ohio State won 23-3 and captured its first Big Ten title with an overall record of 7-0. Northwestern had been held without a touchdown for the only time all season. The Buckeyes outscored their seven opponents, 258-29, including a 128-0 non-conference victory over Oberlin. 

Sophomore halfback Chic Harley and junior tackle Bob Karch were selected 1916 All-Americans. Karch later helped develop the playing rules for the National Football League, and officiated NFL games for more than 40 seasons. He is enshrined in the referee's section of the Professional Football Hall of Fame. 

Harley was well on his way to one of the most celebrated careers in college history. A natural at every sport, he was the complete player, and his very modest and warm manner made him extremely popular with his teammates and fans alike. Harley became Ohio State’s first three-time All-American, and his jersey #47 has been permanently retired.