MADISON, Wis. — Please, please, please, please, football gods. Just this once, be just.
Give us a rematch.
Give us a sequel. Give us Badgers in one corner, Buckeyes in the other, swinging for the fences in Indianapolis.
Give us Corey Clement, running angry, flashing his inner Beast Mode.
Give us Jazz Peavy, tight-rope-walking up the sidelines, cutting through the edge of the defense the way a laser cuts through diamond.
Give us Alex Hornibook, eyes forward, fearless and free, stepping forward in pocket, dropping dart after dart after dart.
Give us Rob Wheelwright, tip-toeing in overtime against the team he grew up with.
Give us Paul Chryst, moving chess piece after chess piece, proving again that “three-star” kids with five-star hearts can run with anybody. Anywhere.
Give us more. Ohio State 30, Wisconsin 23 deserves at least that much.
If the football gods are just — and no promises there — Saturday night in Madison was just the teaser. The appetizer.
And the really crazy part? The Badgers’ narrative, the moral of the story, isn’t even clear yet, let alone close enough to touch.
Because no matter what happened at Camp Randall Stadium, the only thing we can say for certain about the Wisconsin storybook for 2016 is that they’ve already put their two most daunting tests — the No. 4 Michigan and No. 2 Ohio State — in the rear-view mirror.
The overtime, the heartbreak, was just icing.
Or a blip.
Regardless, Bucky’s script flips to the Big Ten West for the next six weeks. Which means that a division title, and a berth in the conference championship game, are as much in play now as they were Saturday morning. The fate of a season still rests in the Badgers’ collective hands.
If anything, next week’s trip to Iowa City — Iowa won 10-6 at Camp Randall a year ago — looms larger, potentially, in the big picture, than the prime-time tussle with the Buckeyes.
Take that one at Kinnick Stadium, and the bonus is two-fold, drawing a line through Kirk Ferentz’s Indianapolis dreams while elevating your own case. Then there’s another division-defining tussle, this one versus unbeaten Nebraska on Oct. 29 in Madison, rolling in after that.
No question: This stung. Maybe even worse than Michigan, a 14-7 loss in Ann Arbor that also fell just out of reach.
Unlike two weeks earlier, the good Hornibrook moments here (16-for-28 passing, 214 yards) outweighed the bad, and by a significant margin.
But the poorer, freshmen moments were killer, and perhaps none moreso than the rainbow with 1:48 left in the third quarter, Wisconsin up by three, the one that hung up just long enough for Buckeyes cornerback Gareon Conley to pluck it out of the air and give the guests the ball at the Badgers’ 38.
The Buckeyes didn’t waste the moment, chipping away over the next 2:34 on six plays, capping the drive with an 8-yard sprint up the right pylon by Barrett to give Ohio State its first lead of the night, 19-16.
Give us more guts. Wisconsin’s defense turned up, as expected. Ohio State drove with Ohio State ease to the Badgers’ 23 to start the third quarter. Then a hard rain fell over Camp Randall. A few minutes later, Barrett let go a line drive in the end zone that was smothered by Wisconsin safety D’Cota Dixon to snuff another Buckeye threat.
Give us more wrinkles. Peavy was used early (70 yards rushing, 76 yards receiving), and creatively. And the biggest play in the first half was saved by the biggest call — all on Clement’s 68-yard mad dash-and-fumble up the left boundary with 7:25 to go in the first period.
The rock appeared to be slipping free before Clement was down, but officials ruled that, since the ball was out of bounds before it touched the Badgers back, the hosts retained possession. Just three plays later, Wisconsin scored on a 24-yard rope from Hornibrook to Peavy, pushing the Badgers’ lead to 9-0.
The Badgers had more points (10) and nearly as many yards (154) after the first quarter as they’d managed the entire afternoon in Ann Arbor (159 yards, seven points). The hosts finished the first half with 16 points and 313 yards of offense against a defense that had come in second allowing 10.8 points and 246.6 yards per game, both second in the Big Ten to Michigan (10.3, 212.8).
Give us redemption. Give us payback. Give us closure. They were there. Close. So damn close. And the story still has so, so far yet to go.