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Ohio State vs. Wisconsin: Remembering Lee Evans’ 79-yard touchdown, UW’s win in 2003

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Ahead of Saturday’s showdown in Madison, we relive memorable moments from the Wisconsin-Ohio State rivalry.

Lee Evans #3 and Brandon Williams #25 celebrate touchdown reception Photo by Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

The route was “56 Jerk.”

According to Paul Hubbard, a wide receiver would run a 10-yard out before breaking up the field. The track standout was a mere freshman on Wisconsin’s sidelines as a walk-on, but watched as one Lee Evans lined up during a tie game in the fourth quarter.

“He was doing it in practice—it was cool,” Hubbard, himself a former Wisconsin wide receiver, said back in June 2015 in an interview for Walk-On This Way. “He did it in the second game of the season against Akron, and he went 99 yards for a touchdown. It was awesome.”

On the evening of Oct. 11, 2003, when No. 22 Wisconsin hosted No. 3 Ohio State at Camp Randall Stadium, Evans stood across the line of scrimmage from cornerback Chris Gamble. The versatile defensive back and future NFL first-round draft pick was a dynamic player for the Buckeyes, but he was no match for the talented Badgers receiver on that play.

“Lee Evans sold that out better than I had ever seen it done before,” Hubbard said.

Out of 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end, two wide receivers), it wasn’t starting quarterback Jim Sorgi under center, as he was knocked out of the game in the third quarter after Ohio State linebacker Robert Reynolds choked him.

Talk about next man up. Back-up Matt Schabert had his chance to shine.

“Schabert, he’s getting his shot now. He came up big in a big-time game,” Hubbard recalled.

The backup took the snap and dropped back. After Gamble took the bait on the out pattern, Evans cut up field and left the cornerback scrambling to catch up. Schabert threw it up the right sideline, and the All-American ran under it in perfect stride for the reception. Off to the races, no one would catch him for what would be the game-winning 79-yard touchdown in a 17-10 win that Saturday night.

“You know every time I play these guys, I'm always fired up ready to go,” Evans said in post-game comments. “Early in the game, I had some opportunities where I was open to make plays and the ball just didn't come up. I stayed patient, let the game come to me. In crunch time, it came up and I made the play.”

The upset victory in Madison broke the Buckeyes’ 19-game winning streak, and at the time, it was the first game in 18 years where the Badgers defeated a top-five opponent.

It was the only catch for Evans on the evening, and Wisconsin gained just 158 yards passing. Sophomore wide receiver Brandon Williams caught five passes for 57 yards, but it was the rushing attack that was potent with 141 yards. Running back Booker Stanley carried the ball 31 times for 125 yards and a touchdown.

Defensively, the Badgers held the defending national champions to 69 yards rushing and forced two turnovers, including one interception by All-American safety—and current defensive backs coach—Jim Leonhard. The other turnover, a fumble recovery on a punt recovered by walk-on long snapper Matt Katula, set up a Mike Allen 38-yard field goal to put UW up 10-3 in the third quarter.

A picture of the fumble recovery, according to Katula, wound up in the national USA Today section. That photo still hangs in his home, and he admitted he has to tell visitors he was a different weight back then.

About 50 seconds before Evans’s big catch, Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel found wide receiver Michael Jenkins for a six-yard touchdown to tie the game at 10-10. Then, after Wisconsin got the ball back and Stanley ran for a one-yard gain to set up a 2nd-and-9, Schabert found his open receiver. One of the most memorable touchdowns in Wisconsin history was born.

Former tight end Joel Nellis recalled the team knew it had to play its best game to beat the Buckeyes. Throughout the week, the phrase “I’m in, I’m on” was echoed by the players — so much so, that they wrote the motivational message on rubber bands around their wrists. T-shirts were even ordered and worn on that Saturday.

On that Saturday evening, everything came together for a win that still resounds with fans and players alike.

“I’m very proud and pleased with the victory, proud of my team,” head coach Barry Alvarez said immediately after the game. “I thought it was a team win. All three phases played exceptional. Lots of different people made plays to win that football game. We played against a very, very good football team, a very talented team, a team that knows how to win. To walk off that field and break the nation’s longest winning streak and stay undefeated in the league, it’s one of my most gratifying wins. I’m really I'm really proud of the staff and the players. It was a great win for us and our program.”