2011 Michigan State Spartans Football
A Hail Mary for the ages pushes Spartans past Badgers
The 11 th ranked Michigan State Spartans (6-1 and 3-0 in Big Ten play) got another victory in a slate of games that would leave many teams limping to November. The Spartans beat the 6 th ranked, previously unbeaten, Wisconsin Badgers (6-1 and 2-1 in Big Ten play) Saturday in East Lansing, in a game that will be remembered for a long time no matter what team you root for.
After blowing a two touchdown lead the Spartans looked to score before the end of regulation with the score tied at 31-31. Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins got the ball with just over a minute left, and led the Spartans to the Badger 44 yard line with just four seconds left. The play that unfolded next was something a story book ending would struggle to match.
Cousins rolled right and held the ball as long as he could before heaving the ball into the crisp air. The ball ricocheted off of Spartan senior receiver B.J. Cunningham right into the unsuspecting hands of fellow senior wide receiver Keith Nichol. Nichol twisted and fought his way pushing to cross the goal line, but the play was marked dead at the half yard line.
The referees had to go to the instant replay. With the crowd looking to explode, the lead ref came back to the field of play to announce that Nichol had indeed crossed the goal line giving the Spartans the 37-31 victory. East Lansing lit up in pandemonium as the players jumped around like a Pop Warner team that had just won the championship. Quite the scene and one that will not be forgotten for years to come.
The play pushed the Spartans passed it’s third tough test in October, and dashed the Badger’s dreams of being undefeated and playing for the national championship.
After beating Ohio State in Columbus, and then beating arch rival Michigan at home, Michigan State bagged their third win in three very tough games finishing of Wisconsin in style. The game didn’t have that fairy tale beginning though.
Badger senior quarterback Russell Wilson looked like the type of player that had earned all the hype that surrounded him coming in, leading Wisconsin to a dominating first drive and finding junior tight end Jacob Pedersen for a 9 yard touchdown. The Badgers got the ball back and jammed it to the Spartans with junior running back Montee Ball who made it 14-0 with 7:42 left to play in the first quarter.
The Spartans rallied sacking Wilson in the end zone early in the second quarter, making it 14-2 and getting the ball back. Senior wide receiver Keshawn Martin kept it going scoring on a 34 yard reverse play slashing the lead to 14-9. With some scoreless minutes winding down the second quarter, B.J. Cunningham took a short route and busted through some Badgers to score from 35 yards out giving the Spartans their first lead of the day at 16-14.
Just before half the Spartans got a huge play out of their special teams unit blocking a Badger punt and diving on it in the end zone sending Wisconsin to halftime with a 23-14 deficit. Wisconsin had not faced a test like this all year, Trailing at halftime, and looking rather out of sync offensively the Badgers were in trouble. But, they would respond.
The third quarter saw red shirt senior kicker Phillip Welch cut the lead to 23-17 with a 33 yard field goal. Early on in the fourth quarter the Spartans scored on a nifty 15 yard catch and run from Martin with a Cunningham two point conversion making the score 31-17 with 10:58 to play. Wilson and the Badgers had one last trick up their sleeve.
Wilson proved to be resilient after throwing an interception and being ineffective throughout most of the first half. He would not let his team go down without a fight. He drove the Badgers down to the Spartan 22 yard line midway through the fourth. Then he showed the nation why he is considered one of the better quarterbacks in the country. Scrambling out of harms way, Wilson crossed the line of scrimmage and then preceded to pump fake a Spartan defender in the air, zipping right by the rest of the Spartan defense and cutting the lead to 31-24.
Following another errant throw and an interception coupled with a Badger punt, Wilson got some help from his defense and showed one last hooray. Countless times throughout the fourth quarter Wilson made plays out of nothing, and his final drive was possibly his best of the day. He lead an 87 yard touchdown drive scrambling around to find senior fullback Bradie Ewing for a first down around midfield, and then made magic with his feet again before launching the ball to senior wide receiver Nick Toon covering 42 yards. Sophomore wide receiver Jermey Abbrederis got in the action catching a pass at the two yard line and setting up first and goal. Wilson then found Ball to knot the game at 31-31.
Then it happened. Cousins took his team down the field converting two crucial third down plays and finally the heave to Nichol as time expired.
Wilson was 14 of 21 passing with 220 yards, two touchdowns and the two picks on the day. Ball ran hard finding 115 yards on the ground rushing 18 times and finding pay dirt once. Abbrederis had a very nice night covering 91 yards on six catches. All in all the Badgers out gained Michigan State 443-399, gaining that yardage on the best statistical defense in the Big Ten.
In the end it was the leadership of Cousins and a much needed bounce for the Spartans to claim victory. Cousins was 22 of 31 on the day for 290 yards and three touchdowns. Cunningham came up big catching six balls for 102 yards and the aforementioned touchdown. The Spartans also got a good day out of junior running back LeVeon Bell who had 87 tough yards on 16 carries.
The ending was perfect, but the road gets no easier for Michigan State. They head to Lincoln this weekend to face conference newbie the Nebraska Cornhuskers(6-1 and 2-1 in the Big Ten play), who go in ranked 14 th in the country, ending the rough October schedule the Spartans endured. Wisconsin will look to get back to it’s winning ways traveling to Columbus to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes(4-3 and 1-2 in Big Ten play).
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