ANN ARBOR, Mich. — As Michigan football was working to secure a rarefied victory against Ohio State in Columbus — something that hadn’t been done in 20 years at that point — the Wolverines needed a spark. They needed some leadership.
But it wasn’t Jim Harbaugh or team coaches that provided it. It was player-led.
The maize and blue were galvanized on the sidelines when cornerback Mike Sainristil and linebacker Michael Barrett gave an impassioned plea to their teammates about the moment at hand. The Game was tight in the second half for a while, with the Wolverines wresting away a Buckeye halftime lead. But OSU was starting to fret, as its vaunted offense could do next to nothing while the visitors marched right down the field for a methodical touchdown. The defense had to hold serve, and that’s where the defensive duo came in.
Sainristil was seen as the ringleader of the sideline speech, and he backed it up with action, keeping tight end Cade Stover from catching a sure touchdown pass and forcing Ohio State to settle for a field goal. Michigan scored a long touchdown by Donovan Edwards in the immediate aftermath, essentially sealing the game. The Michigan nickelback says that his speech wasn’t planned, it was just something that happened in the moment.
“I will say nothing about that was forced,” Sainristil said. “Like I’ve mentioned before, that was just something that I noticed, how the opposing sideline looked. And I was like, ‘You know what? Right now, it’d be a great time to tell these guys, let’s keep going, this game’s not over. We just need to keep the foot on the gas. And just take everything away from those guys.’ Because their demeanor showed that it was over. We’re on our sideline energetic. And I just wanted to let everybody know if you keep going your hardest for four to six seconds per play, this game will be ours at the end. So that’s just something that I felt in my heart, I had to say at the time.”
Sainristil already had a captaincy in Ann Arbor, but Barrett didn’t earn one until this week, 10 months after that game. Yet, he exuded leadership in that moment.
For him, it was just a moment where he recognized that the almighty Buckeyes were down — not just in score, but emotionally — and that it was the perfect opportunity for the Wolverines to take advantage.
“We just knew we were playing a great game at that point,” Barrett said. “And just looking over to their sideline, just kind of seeing the defeat in their eyes and hanging their heads. We just wanted to get everyone together just let everyone know it’s our time to go finish this — like we’re here now. We know what we want to do, we know what we want to accomplish. Let’s go do it. There’s no point like — we see they’re defeated. Let’s go stomp them while they’re down.”
Michigan has now won two straight in the series and very well could be favored to win a third once The Game arrives in late November.