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Ryan Day trudged to the mound in the 9th inning, perfect game still intact. His masterpiece put Ohio State in position to stun top-seeded Georgia in the Peach Bowl Playoff semifinal.

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Then he tossed a fat meatball over the heart of the plate. Game over. And all that brilliance had gone to waste.

Pardon the baseball analogy, but it’s the only thing that can properly sum up what we witnessed as the sands of 2022 crumbled into 2023 in an agonizing 42-41 loss for the Buckeyes. After calling a brilliant, aggressive game for better than 59 minutes, Day made a shocking decision to play for a long field goal attempt to earn a spot in the national title game.

He’ll be left thinking about it forever.

Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud had just done the unthinkable, breaking loose for a 27-yard gain that brought the Buckeyes to the Georgia 31-yard line. The Buckeyes had 24 seconds and 2 timeouts to finish the job.

Which is when Day did the even more unthinkable.

On first down, he chose to hand the ball to third-string running back Dallan Hayden. The message was clear: Ohio State was playing for 3 points. And anyone who attempts to tell you otherwise is delusional or lying.

Hayden was not going to break off a 31-yard touchdown run against the nation’s top run defense. The Bulldogs have allowed 4 — 4! — runs of more than 20 yards this season. Georgia had only allowed 26 runs of more than 10 yards, which means it was unlikely Hayden was even going to break off a big enough gain to set up more favorable field-goal position.

Instead, the play was a predictable failure. Hayden lost a yard. After a pair of incompletions, including a scrambling near-disaster that Stroud simply threw out of bounds to avoid taking a 15-yard sack, the Buckeyes settled for a 50-yard field goal attempt.

It seemed to travel wide left by approximately the same distance. And that’s not on kicker Noah Ruggles, who hit from 48 earlier but never should have been placed in such a preposterous position.

Stroud was cooking. Georgia was on its heels. And on first down with the game in the balance, Day took the ball out of the hands of his back-to-back Heisman finalist.

It’s among the most baffling decisions in college football history, right up with Michigan attempting to throw a 4th-and-goal pass with its true freshman tight end approximately 7 hours earlier in the day. But even more so. When you do cute stuff in the first quarter, you have time to make up for it.

There was no time to spare when Day got cute. Or ultra-conservative. Or dumb. Maybe gutless?

It’s hard to properly quantify — even though Day and Stroud said afterward that they liked the call and wouldn’t change it.

And the fact he did get cute/conservative/dumb/gutless is incomprehensible given how he had called this entire game. It was completely incongruent with the rest of Day’s night.

Day turns to night

Day twice elected to go for it on 4th down inside his own 35. And both worked — just not in the stat book.

A wonderfully designed Stroud run for 8 yards on a second quarter 4th-and-1 was wiped out by an illegal motion call.

The player who committed that penalty, Joe Rossi, appeared to have a moment of redemption when he picked up the first down on a beautiful fake punt in the 4th quarter. With a first down there, the Buckeyes had a shot to score again to put the game to bed.

But that did not count, either. Georgia coach Kirby Smart saw the Dawgs weren’t aligned properly and called a timeout an eyelash before the ball was snapped. Ohio State had to settle for a disappointing punt.

Even though neither 4th-down play counted, the decisions to go for it perfectly summed up the swagger the Buckeyes played with all night. After having their toughness questioned for more than a month following their blowout loss to Michigan, the Bucks brought the physicality to Georgia.

And Day, who was called out for a couple curious decisions to punt on the Michigan side of the 50, threw caution to the wind against Georgia. It was delightful to watch a guy who shouldered so much criticism shoving it back in everyone’s faces.

Until it turned out the critics were right all along. When Ohio State needed to keep pushing the envelope — or at least pushing the ball downfield — Day turtled and played for the field goal.

Nobody will remember the reason Ohio State was in position to win this game, which was Day’s play calling combined with the performance of Stroud’s career.

They’ll remember the reason Ohio State lost this game. It was when Day took the ball out of Stroud’s hands in the best game of the quarterback’s career.

It’s a shame when the final 24 seconds can override the 59:36 before it.

But that’s the College Football Playoff. Every second counts. Ohio State needed a full 60 minutes of good decisions from its head coach.

The Buckeyes didn’t get it. Fittingly, their clock struck midnight — at midnight.