Wildcats hand Spartans fifth home loss

The Spartans lose their fifth home game of the season in 23-20 loss to the Wildcats.

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Protect your house.

It’s the most primal need in college football. But the house came crumbling down this season for Michigan State — which lost for the fourth time in as many Big Ten home games this year to Northwestern on Saturday.

After going 4-0 in conference games at Spartan Stadium in 2010 and 2011 and realizing consecutive 11-win seasons, defensive end William Gholston was asked to put the turnaround in perspective.

“That is ridiculous,” he said.

Gholston forced a smile, his eyes widened and he slowly shook his head.

“Nobody goes in thinking they are going to lose in their house,” he said. “I didn’t think we’d lose a game this year.”

State began the season ranked No. 13 with Rose Bowl aspirations. Now it’s going up to Minnesota next Saturday with a 5-6 record, begging for one more win and bowl eligibility.

The Spartans are 3-1 on the road, but 2-5 at home with the wins coming against Boise State and Eastern Michigan. They have lost at Spartan Stadium to Notre Dame, Ohio State, Iowa in double overtime, Nebraska and Northwestern.

They had not gone 0-4 in conference play in East Lansing since 2006 — the last season of the forgettable John L. Smith coaching era.

Mark Dantonio replaced Smith in 2007 and had lost just five total Big Ten home games in five previous seasons. His record had been 15-5 in conference games at Spartan Stadium, but the stranglehold his team had on home games is gone.

“I talked about that in our locker room,” Dantonio said. “We lost five games in Spartan Stadium this year, and to me that is unheard of. I’ve been here 12 years (including seasons as an assistant) and that’s never happened. This always has been a great place to play and a great environment. I appreciate the support we had today, and thought the fans showed up. I feel badly for them because I know they suffer, too.

“All I can tell you is that you regroup and use it as a way to motivate you and bring you closer. You find value in what’s going on and push forward. If you can do that, then you have a chance to get better and move forward. If you look backwards and blame others, things fall apart. And we will not fall apart.”

While the Spartans trudged out of the stadium, the Wildcats sprinted toward a corner of the end zone near the exit tunnel to celebrate with their purple-clad fans.

“We’ve been kicking ass the last two years,” said kicker Dan Conroy. “But there’s ups and downs. Any team that came in and beat us has the right to celebrate with their fans.” 

Tailback Le’Veon Bell said, “They deserved it. They came up with the plays and we didn’t. We could easily be a 10-1 football team, but we came up short.”

Cornerback Darqueze Dennard echoed Bell’s thoughts, saying, “We’re just a couple plays away from being 10-1. I don’t know; it’s crazy.”

They have lost five times by four or fewer points. But, like they say, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

You are what you are.

“Obviously, we’re 5-6,” said Bell. “That means something. A play here, a play there is the difference. And you never know where those plays are. That’s why you’ve got to play every play like it’s your last.”

Which brings us to the question on everybody’s mind: Was it the last game for Bell, Gholston and tight end Dion Sims? The three talented juniors all figure to go in the second through fourth rounds of the NFL draft should they elect to skip their senior seasons.

If it was their home finale, they left it all on the field with strong individual efforts.

Bell, the conference’s leading rusher headed into Saturday’s games, banged his way to 133 yards and ran his season’s total to 1,382.

Sims had five catches for 102 yards and regularly carried a Wildcat or two or three for extra yards.

Gholston had six tackles, batted down a third-down pass and combined with middle linebacker Max Bullough to sack quarterback Kain Colter for a safety.

When asked about the possibility that the 23-20 loss had been his final Spartan Stadium appearance, Gholston shook his head and looked down.

“That’s a selfish question to ask,” he said.

Then he excused himself, choosing to exit stage right rather than say something he probably would regret.

This season has not been about riding white horses off into sunsets. It has been about constant frustration and losing all the things that matter most, including the keys to your house.

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