In the closing moments of the 35th and final Tostitos Fiesta Bowl to be played in Sun Devil Stadium, a group of Ohio State fans began to chant, "We own Tem-pe! We own Tem-pe!"
It would be hard to argue. The program had already etched its name in Fiesta Bowl lore by becoming one of five national champions to be crowned on the Sun Devil Stadium turf with a thrilling double-overtime win over Miami in January 2003.
Fourth-ranked Ohio State further cemented its place in the game's history when it defeated fifth-ranked Notre Dame, 34-20, Monday to win its third Fiesta Bowl in the game's final four years in its original home. The Fiesta Bowl and the following week's BCS national championship game will be played in the Arizona Cardinals' new facility in Glendale next year, but the difference in geography was lost on Ohio State quarterback and offensive player of the game Troy Smith.
"The national championship is here next year," Smith said with a smile. "We like that."
It was one of Smith's few miscues on the day. An announced crowd of 76,196 — the largest ever to watch a Fiesta Bowl that did not determine the national championship — turned out to watch Smith and speedy flanker Ted Ginn Jr. burn the Fighting Irish on big play after big play in a game that was not determined until Buckeyes running back Antonio Pittman raced 60 yards off left tackle and into the end zone to provide the final margin of victory with 1:46 to play.
The game was dominated everywhere but on the scoreboard by Ohio State (10-2), which out-gained Notre Dame 617 yards to 348. The Irish (9-3) remained in the game thanks to a pair of blocked field goals and a botched option pitch by Smith that was recovered by Notre Dame inside its own 10.
After trailing by as many as 14 points in the first half, Notre Dame appeared to be a two-point conversion from tying the game when safety Tom Zbikowski returned what was originally called a fumble by receiver Anthony Gonzalez 88 yards for a touchdown that cut the score to 21-19.
The fumble was ruled an incomplete pass after a short official's review, though, and on the next play Josh Huston kicked a 40-yard field goal to make the score 24-13 with 2:20 to play in the third quarter. Notre Dame would never again take over possession of the ball with a chance to pull even or take the lead.
"It was obviously the play," first-year Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. "What I said to the official up on the field was, 'I hope your guys upstairs were right, because that just changed the whole complexion of the game."
Much of the hype leading into Monday's game centered on the expected chess match between Ohio State's dominant defense and the offense Weis had built in the image of his Super Bowl-winning units in New England.
That match went back and forth. Notre Dame spread the field with three, four or five wide receivers and scored on its opening possession before being stymied the rest of the half by an Ohio State defense that played almost exclusively with five defensive backs on the field.
The Irish, who Weis said were prepared to take more risks than they actually did, were able to move the ball with more consistency in the second half with quarterback Brady Quinn operating without a huddle.
It wasn't enough though, as Smith, Ginn and Santonio Holmes had already turned in enough big plays to fend off the Irish.
Smith hit Ginn and Holmes behind the Notre Dame secondary on 56- and 85-yard scoring passes and Ginn scored on a 68-yard reverse as the Buckeyes built a 21-7 lead they would carry into the second half. Holmes' touchdown catch was the longest in Fiesta Bowl history and Ginn's run was just eight yards short of another game record.
"I've been hearing a lot about how are you going to beat a Notre Dame team when you give Charlie Weis four weeks to prepare for you," Ohio State linebacker and defensive player of the game A.J. Hawk said. "That kind of upset me because what about giving coach (Jim) Tressel four weeks to prepare for you. He's four out of five in bowl games."
Including three out of three in Tempe.