NEW ORLEANS » Ohio State might want to send a thank-you note to the NCAA for helping to end its bowl misery against the SEC.
Terrelle Pryor threw two touchdown passes, helping the No. 6 Buckeyes build a big lead, and Solomon Thomas made an interception with 58 seconds remaining that sealed a 31-26 victory over eighth-ranked Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl yesterday.
Pryor and Thomas were among five Ohio State players found to have violated NCAA rules by selling memorabilia and getting discounted tattoos just before the Buckeyes (12-1) headed for the Big Easy. They were all suspended for the first five games of next season — but permitted to play in the Sugar Bowl.
Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said all five pledged to return to school next season to serve the punishment.
In the end, Ohio State needed every one of them to beat a Southeastern Conference team in a bowl for the first time and gain some respect for the Big Ten after a dismal performance on New Year’s Day, when the league went 0-5 — including three losses to SEC schools.
The Buckeyes had lost their previous nine postseason meetings against the SEC.
The group of suspended players also included Dan Herron and DeVier Posey, who each scored a touchdown, as well as starting left tackle Mike Adams. Pryor was named the game’s MVP, adding to the same award he claimed in last year’s Rose Bowl. But Thomas, the only backup among those who ran afoul of the NCAA, made the biggest play of all.
Arkansas (10-3) had a chance to complete an improbable comeback when Colton Miles-Nash leaped over two linemen to block a punt, putting the Razorbacks at the Ohio State 18 with 1:09 remaining.
Thomas finally thwarted the rally, surprising Ryan Mallett by dropping into coverage from his defensive end position. Mallett never saw the 255-pounder, threw the ball right at him and the big guy held on like a receiver to seal the win.
"That was the second interception of my whole life," Thomas yelled on the field as his teammates celebrated around him. "It feels great."
If Pryor follows through on his vow to return for his senior season, even though he won’t be able to play until next October, he left the Ohio State faithful with good memories to tide them over. He completed 14 of 25 passes, including a 15-yard TD to Dane Sanzenbacher and a 43-yarder to Posey.
Pryor, severely hobbled after the game because of a sore foot, also ran for a team-leading 115 yards.
"We’re very sorry," the quarterback told the crowd afterward from a podium in the middle of the field. "I apologize and I’m sorry. Go Bucks!"
Mallett was 24-for-47 for 277 yards, including a pair of touchdowns. "I didn’t see the guy," he said. "He made a great play."
No. 6 OHIO STATE 31, No. 8 ARKANSAS 26
OSU–Sanzenbacher recovered fumble in end zone (Barclay kick), 11:41.
Ark–Adams 17 pass from Mallett (Hocker kick), 9:43.
OSU–Herron 9 run (Barclay kick), 7:17.
OSU–Sanzenbacher 15 pass from Pryor (Barclay kick), 9:53.
OSU–Posey 43 pass from Pryor (Barclay kick), 1:59.
Ark–FG Hocker 20, :00.
Ark–FG Hocker 46, 9:14.
OSU–FG Barclay 46, 4:10.
Ark–J.Wright 22 pass from Mallett (D.Williams pass from Mallett), :58.
Ark–Bequette Safety, 11:52.
Ark–FG Hocker 47, 8:55.
RUSHING—Ohio St., Pryor 15-115, Herron 24-87, Saine 4-25, Team 2-(minus 2). Arkansas, K.Davis 26-139, Wingo 1-14, Mallett 4-(minus 28).
PASSING—Ohio St., Pryor 14-25-0-221. Arkansas, Mallett 24-47-1-277.
RECEIVING—Ohio St., Posey 3-70, Sanzenbacher 3-59, Stoneburner 3-39, Fragel 1-42, Brown 1-13, Herron 1-0, Saine 1-0, Z.Boren 1-(minus 2). Arkansas, Adams 9-120, D.Williams 5-38, J.Wright 4-70, K.Davis 3-8, Hamilton 1-21, Gragg 1-16, Stumon 1-4.
At New Orleans
» Ohio State 31, Arkansas 26
At Mobile, Ala.
» Miami (Ohio) (9-4) vs. Middle Tennessee (6-6), 3 p.m. (ESPN)
At Arlington, Texas
» Texas A&M (9-3) vs. LSU (10-2), 3 p.m. (FOX)
BBVA Compass Bowl
At Birmingham, Ala.
» Pittsburgh (7-5) vs. Kentucky (6-6), 7 a.m. (ESPN)
Fight Hunger Bowl
At San Francisco
» Boston College (7-5) vs. Nevada (12-1), 4 p.m. (ESPN)
BCS National Championship
At Glendale, Ariz.
» Auburn (13-0) vs. Oregon (12-0), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)