(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
In a radio interview shortly before the start of the first ever Big Ten Championship game, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio promised a Spartan win over the Badgers later that night.
Well after one half of play, Michigan State was halfway to backing up that guarantee as they led Wisconsin 29-21 at the break.
On the first drive it looked like nearly a reenactment of the first meeting between the two teams as Wisconsin drove the ball 71 yds. on 9 plays for a touchdown. The Badgers met little resistance once again on the opening drive.
But the Spartans responded, putting together their own scoring drive to meet Wisconsin at seven. MSU moved the ball well, relying on Le’Veon Bell and integrating Keshawn Martin for a pass. Edwin Baker eventually capped off with an 8 yd TD run.
The Badgers took over once again and scored another touchdown on 7 plays for 60 yds, ending with a Montee Ball 6 yd run into the endzone.
The game appeared to take a turn for the worse from the State perspective when Nick Hill fumbled on the ensuing kickoff.
Wisconsin got the ball once again, gave it to Ball twice and were back in the endzone again. Now down 14, and giving up three touchdowns on the first three drives of the game, the Spartans had their backs to the wall.
Michigan State took over in what would be a decisive 1st quarter drive, and began moving the ball, relying once again on their running backs. Just as in the first game, the thoughts were starting toward blowout, but Michigan Sate had a chance at least to answer.
The quarter ended, and the feeling in the dome was that it was now or never for Michigan State.
The Spartans decided that it was “now,” when they lined up on the first play of the 2nd quarter. Cousins executed on one of his, now trademark, run fakes and found a wide-open B.J. Cunningham, who caught it in stride and ran it in for the score.
They were still down seven with the score 21-14, but Michigan State showed then that they weren’t going to let this game slip away easily. The defense came out on the next drive and picked up where the green and white offense had left off.
On three consecutive plays, the MSU defense not only stopped Wisconsin, but allowed only 2 yds of forward movement.
Upon getting the ball back, State drove from their own 43-yd-line to the red zone. From ten yards out, Cousins snapped the ball and threw an out-route to receiver Keith Nichol. Nichol looked to be forced out of bounds before getting into the corner of the end zone, but flipped the ball to Cunningham at the last second and the Spartans scored again.
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
With the extra-point, State would have tied the game, but Dantonio mustered up his own trick play and the Spartans converted on a fake field goal, 2 yd run by senior wide receiver Brad Sonntag handing the Spartans a one-point lead.
But the green and white weren’t done there.
On the first play of the next Badger possession, Spartan defensive lineman Denicos Allen crashed through the line and sacked Russell Wilson for a 6-yd loss. It was a big play, as State had barely even touched Wilson up to that point.
From there the Spartans stopped Wisconsin the next two plays and got the ball again. But Cousins made his first mistake of the game and let a pass hang over the middle, inevitably getting intercepted by Badger safety Shelton Johnson.
Wisconsin had new life and a chance to take control of the game once again with the turnover, but couldn’t move the ball against the Spartan defense — another three-and-out.
This time, when Michigan State got the ball back, they settled down from the interception and went to work eating up time on the clock and moving the ball.
The Spartans started from their own 16, scoring eight plays later after getting 49 yards of total offense from Martin. Bell finished off the drive with a 6 yd touchdown run through the Wisconsin defenders.
Michigan State forced another three-and-out on the ensuing Wisconsin possession, their fourth in a row, and got the ball again with 2:24 left in the half.
State worked the clock, running 10 plays, using all three timeouts and leaving two seconds on the clock for kicker Dan Conroy to attempt a 51 yd. field goal. But Conroy missed and the teams entered the locker room 29-21 with the Spartans in the lead.
I don’t think that many people thought that Michigan State would come back again on Wisconsin like they did in the first meeting. With 30 minutes of football left, the Spartans held the lead.
The question was whether or not they could hold on in the second half.
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