There’s four seconds left on the clock, the games on the line and you have 44 yds to go for the score. The game is tied and your only hope lies on one last desperate attempt.
Kirk Cousins (8) throws the final pass of the game (Photo by: Jon Coffey/isportsweb.com)
You heave the ball to the end zone and your receiver catches it to win the game!
It’s what every kid dreams about and the perfect ending to any football movie, but often times it doesn’t seem realistic. People don’t buy in because that won’t ever happen.
Well Saturday night, it happened.
Michigan State battled all game to get into a position where the impossible could be reached and they took hold of it.
Kirk Cousins dropped back with :04 left on the clock. He rolled to his right, the offensive line pushing and resisting defeat. You could feel the tension start to build as the crowd began to beg him to throw the ball. And then, as if he heard them he let it go and the closest thing to silence that 70,000- plus people can attain fell over the stadium.
The final play of the Michigan State-Wisconsin game (Photo by: Jon Coffey/isportsweb.com)
It seemed as if the ball was in the air for an unusually long time before it drops into a crowd of red and green. One Wisconsin player leapt into the air but didn’t get a hold of the ball and it bounced onto B.J. Cunningham and away from the goal line. End over end it plummeted through the air.
And then suddenly two hands snatched it out of its descent and Keith Nichol pulled it close to his body as he lunged toward the end zone. The gang of Badgers jumped to push him back and keep him out, but Nichol would not be denied and with one final effort he strained against the team of white jerseys and everyone fell to the ground at the goal line.
The referee announced that the ball was down at the 1 yd line, and then quickly added that the play would be reviewed.
Whispers. Murmurs. Everyone wondering, hoping, praying… did he get in?
Max Bullough (40) and the rest of the Spartans erupt when the referee announces the Keith Nichol game-winning touchdown (Photo by: Jon Coffey/isportsweb.com)
The referee stepped out onto the field to announce their conclusion and before he spoke more than five words out the crowd erupted. Touchdown. Spartans win 37-31.
As incredible of a play as that was, it took an entire game of plays to get to that one. Wisconsin had been virtually untouchable up until this game and came in as the heavy favorite.
Michigan State was coming off of a good victory against rival Michigan, but had been accused of foul play and had heard about it all week.
Without suspended William Gholston, picked against by almost everyone, and holding the reputation of a team that always chokes in big games, Michigan State strode into this game with something to prove.
So when the game ended and the Spartans had won, not committed a penalty, blocked two kicks and finally finished out a huge game in fantastic fashion, it was obvious that this win was way bigger than just one Saturday night football game.
“Wow.” Head coach Mark Dantonio said. “That’s about all I can say.”
The coach did go on to praise his team’s tough play, character and execution, but his initial reaction said it all.
It was an incredible night and one that will not soon be forgotten.
So here is how it all went down:
Michigan State did not come out the way that anyone was hoping for. Digging themselves into a 14-0 hole halfway through the first quarter and having run only one offensive play during that time doesn’t exactly scream success.
Russell Wilson looked like he was living up to all of the hype surrounding him before this game as he led his offense through the meager green defense.
Late in the first quarter the Badgers were marching down the field and it seemed like they were about to close the door on MSU when Wilson overthrew one of his receivers. Senior safety and State captain Trenton Robinson tracked the ball down and picked it off, bringing the thunderous crowd back to life.
On the next play, running back Le’Veon Bell took the ball and dashed down the sideline for 32 yds — easily the biggest offensive play of the day for the Spartans at that point.
Although Michigan State wouldn’t go on to score on that drive, the energy boost was exactly what the team needed to get themselves back into the game.
Punter Kevin Muma pinned the Badgers inside their own 10 yd line and with their backs to the wall they couldn’t fend off the Spartans.
Jerel Worthy made the first tackle-for-loss of the game, pushing Ball to the back of the end zone and giving Wisconsin the ball on their own 2 yd line.
The Spartans kept the pressure up on the next play and forced a desperate and frantic Wilson to throw the ball away from the end zone. But the quarterback was still in the pocket and threw to no one from his own team resulting in an intentional grounding penalty. But that wasn’t all, because the play occurred in the offenses own end zone the penalty forced a safety and Michigan State was finally on the board 14-2.
The point difference may not have looked much different, but the atmosphere drastically changed with those two points and the Spartans looked like an entirely new team.
Getting the ball back from the safety punt, the Spartans drove the ball down the field – Kirk Cousins leading the way. Cousins completed a 9 yd pass to B.J. Cunningham and later a 25 yd pass to tight end Brian Linthicum.
Now 34 yds out from the end zone Cousins faked a handoff to the running back and then started a double reverse that ended up in the arms of Keshawn Martin with a wide-open lane. Martin sprinted in for the score and Michigan State suddenly found themselves facing only a five point deficit and a fresh outlook on the rest of the game.
(Photo by: Jon Coffey/isportsweb.com)
After the touchdown, Wisconsin tried to regain control and it seemed like they were about to do just that. The Badgers strung together a steady drive, relying heavily on the run, and arrived at the MSU doorstep. On 3rd and 2, Wisconsin had the chance to earn a fresh set of downs in the red zone, but came up short when Kyler Ellsworth and Max Bullough stuffed Badger running back James White at the line.
Wisconsin then lined up to kick a field goal that would’ve put them up 17-9, but Darqueze Dennard said differently and blocked the kick.
The Spartans regained possession at their own 20 and started on another big drive. Cousins connected with Linthicum once again for 24 yds, setting MSU up well-inside Wisconsin territory.
Michigan State failed to convert on 3rd and 1, but opted to give it another try on 4th down and boy did it pay off. With almost everyone expecting the green and white to pound the ball up the middle, Cousins dropped back and found Cunningham crossing the middle of the field beyond the first down marker. But when everyone was happy with the first down, Cunningham shrugged off the Badger defenders and was suddenly alone with only the end zone in front of him.
The Badgers could have been up by eight, but instead the Spartans were on the front end of a 16-14 score.
At this point the crowd was back to full blast, if not more, but were in store for even more from their guys before the break.
Wisconsin got the ball back with 1:15 left in the half and were immediately stifled when linebacker Denicos Allen came through with another huge play and sacked Wilson. The Badgers looked ready to get into the locker room and regroup when State’s Elsworth crashed through the line on a punt. The linebacker blocked the kick and sent the ball flying toward the end zone where it was instantly mobbed by the Michigan State special teams unit. The referees signaled a touchdown and Michigan State went up 23-14 – a far cry from the overwhelming deficit that began the game.
The teams left the field for the locker rooms at the end of half with Michigan State leaving one word in every spectator’s mind: stunning.
Historically, MSU is not the kind of team that bounces back from bad starts against good teams in high-pressure situations.
But historically, this isn’t a typical Spartan team.
Before Saturday’s game I heard a statistic that only eight teams in Big Ten history have ever beaten Ohio State and Michigan in consecutive weeks. Seven of those eight teams went on to win the Big Ten title later in the same season.
The 2011 Spartans are a team on a mission and they weren’t trying to hide that against the Badgers.
At the start of the second half, the Spartans received the ball, but couldn’t turn it into points. After six plays that went for 17 yds, State punted the ball away to a Wisconsin team that was in desperate need of points for fear of letting the game slip away.
The Badgers took over and had a strong showing, moving the ball 58 yds in just over three minutes, but the Spartans defense never gave way, forcing Wisconsin to settle for a field goal – 23-17 MSU.
The teams traded non-scoring drives that took the game to late in the third quarter. Michigan State got the ball and started on a drive with obvious intent to eat up as much of the clock as possible. And the Spartans did exactly that. The drive ended when Cousins threw only his second pass of the trip to Keshawn Martin who took the short pass to the sideline cut up field and scampered into the corner of the end zone for the score.
Michigan State then decided to go for a two-point conversion to put themselves up by fourteen – a risky but beneficial move if it succeeded.
State lined up and threw what many have been calling for all year; a fade to Cunningham in the corner of the end zone. Cousins threw a beautiful ball over the outside shoulder of his receiver where only he could make a play on it, and Cunningham showed tremendous athleticism and control when he brought the ball down.
The Spartans now led 31-17 with just over 10 minutes to play in the 4thquarter. But while that situation would normally allow its fans to breath easy, Spartan nation knew better than to trust it against the renowned icy play of Wisconsin’s Wilson.
Russell Wilson (16) receives the snap (Photo by: Jon Coffey/isportsweb.com)
And that instinct proved true when Wilson marched his team down the field for two touchdowns in the last nine minutes of the game. The Spartans had tried to burn as much time off the clock as they could, but didn’t produce any points and so the two Wisconsin scores tied the game at 31 apiece.
Michigan State took over with just over a minute left in the game and the overtime buzz began to surface around the stadium.
It started out looking like the Spartans might blow the whole thing, much like the start of the ballgame. But the green and white hung tough and put themselves in a position to make a play, and that’s exactly what they did.
The Michigan State celebration begins (Photo by: Jon Coffey/isportsweb.com)
“Where do you go from there?” Coach Dantonio asked after the game. “We go to Nebraska.”
The Spartans are now rolling after three huge wins in a row. Next week Michigan State will travel to Nebraska and take on the Cornhuskers at noon on ESPN.
There’s still a lot of football to be played, but there’s no doubt that this year is already looking special for the Spartans. This may not be the last time that Michigan State meets Wisconsin on the gridiron in 2011.