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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- You could see the seeds of Kenny Guiton's legend being planted since August. The sincerity in Urban Meyer's voice when he spoke of his improvement, without being provoked to do so. The "Coach Guiton" nickname that he was given following Ohio State's season-opening win over Miami (OH). The way that the backup quarterback made a habit of capping off touchdown drives when starter Braxton Miller was too gassed or temporarily injured to do so.
But nobody could have imagined it culminating in this.
Guiton's journey from potential washout to reliable backup under Meyer was a nice story, and until Saturday, it wasn't much more than that. The Houston, Texas native was proving that he could contribute at the college level- more than what could have been said a year ago, when he failed to pass Joe Bauserman on the Ohio State depth chart- but with a younger Heisman Trophy candidate ahead of him this season, those contributions appeared to be limited to spot duty and exhibitions.
"My shining moment was probably the spring game," Guiton joked on Saturday.
Emphasis on the word was.
The Buckeyes' annual April scrimmage is no longer the highlight of the fourth-year junior's college career, and his new one's going to be tough to top.
With his team facing a six-point deficit and Miller on his way to the hospital with an unknown injury, Guiton had little more than a quarter to keep the Buckeyes' undefeated season alive against Purdue. The backup's first three series' at the helm of the OSU offense went anything but swimmingly, resulting in a missed field goal, a safety, and finally an interception that appeared to all but seal the upset victory for the Boilermakers.
After spending much of the week being beaten and battered by media, fans, and coaches alike, the Buckeyes' defense rose to the occasion, getting the ball back to Guiton for one last shot at redemption. All the backup had to do was carry the OSU offense 61 yards, in 47 seconds, with no timeouts.
Sitting in the Ohio Stadium pressbox, I assessed that Guiton was capable of completing a touchdown drive, but not the two-point conversion that the Buckeyes needed to erase what was now an eight-point deficit. And compared to other thoughts that were being communicated across press row, I was optimistic.
One series later, and we were all proven wrong.
Calm and collected, Guiton found wide receiver Devin Smith for a 39-yard gain, Evan Spencer for eight yards, and eventually helped draw a pass interference call on an attempt to Spencer in the end zone, bringing the Buckeyes to the two-yard line. From there, Guiton hooked up with Chris Fields for what would prove to be the game-tying touchdown, after he managed to float the ball into the hands of tight end Jeff Heuerman for the needed two-point conversion.
With the Boilermakers clearly deflated from the Buckeyes unlikely comeback, all it took was one series in overtime for OSU to cap off its unlikely win and push Guiton into school lore.
Rushing from the sidelines to the stadium's south stands following the Buckeyes' defense final stand, Guiton was stopped by fans, coaches, and teammates alike, all of whom congratulated the unlikely hero on his game-winning performance. In the interview room, where a contingent of media usually stands by for Miller and other stars, a large group of reporters waited around the room's lone podium, anxious to talk to Saturday's star.
As few as two months ago, such scene seemed impossible to fathom. An unheralded recruit in OSU's 2009 class, Guiton was only offered a scholarship to play for the Buckeyes after Tajh Boyd chose to go to Clemson and Austin Boucher kept his commitment to Miami (OH).
It wasn't until this season that Guiton rose any higher than third on the OSU depth chart, and it wasn't until Saturday that he got his chance to shine.
"This is what I play football for. I haven't always had the shot, and I feel like today I got it," Guiton told the throng of reporter who awaited his arrival. "I went out and had fun."
With four games left- three against quality conference opponents in Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan, it's impossible to predict just how the Buckeyes' season is going to play out. But after Saturday's performance against Purdue, the story of Meyer's inaugural season in Columbus can't be told without the unlikely story of Guiton, which is why we cover this game in the first place.
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